Phil Nash in the classroom

Professor makes history accessible

The sole full-time history professor at a campus with virtually no history majors, Dr. Nash offers a wide variety of courses to his students. Outside the campus, Nash shares his expertise with the community with his frequent guest appearances on the Ron Errett show on WPIC 790 AM and on Professor Buzzkill's podcasts.

Dr. Phil Nash, associate professor of history at Penn State Shenango, is one of the most well-liked professors on campus. In addition to enjoying his students’ respect, he is known for his expertise as a historian and scholar both nationally and internationally. As is usually the case with professional historians, Nash’s scholarship — he is currently completing a book on America’s first female ambassadors — is meant primarily for an academic audience. But especially as the sole full-time history professor at a campus with virtually no history majors, he has to make history accessible to a wider audience.

“Engaging students who may have little regard for history is probably my greatest challenge as an instructor,” says Nash.

Nash attempts to overcome this hurdle by offering a wide variety of lower-division history and international studies courses. These include broad courses, such as world and U.S. history surveys and introduction to international studies, but also more narrowly focused courses, such as African-American history, women’s history, World War II, Vietnam, and the Holocaust. This means that students looking to fulfill the humanities general education requirement have some choices, while at the same time they may earn credits towards the campus’ diversity studies and international studies certificates.

His many non-history majors appreciate how Nash engages them. “Even though he assigns a lot of work, I still take his classes because of his unique way of teaching and the amount of knowledge he has to offer,” says one of his students.

Nash also helps engage students outside the classroom. For example, he is the advisor of the History Club, which studies and promotes history through activities on campus, such as a game show. The Club also takes trips to historical sites, such as Gettysburg. This spring break they plan to visit Washington, D.C.

However, Nash also tries to share his expertise and love of history with the public. One way he does this is by appearing several times a year on local radio. Ron Errett has him on his show (WPIC 790 AM) to discuss all sorts of topics, and listeners call in to comment and ask questions, which Nash can usually answer.

Another form of this outreach is Nash’s frequent appearances on the podcasts of “Professor Buzzkill,” destroyer of historical myths. It turns out that thousands of people worldwide like downloading programs at and learning about history during their workouts or commutes. Whether the topic is the Scopes “Monkey” Trial or the atomic bomb, Nash is there to help out. “It’s a lot of fun for me,” Nash says, “and people seem enjoy learning history in small chunks while they’re doing something else, rather than sitting down and plowing through an entire book.”

In these and other ways, Nash doesn’t only spend his time rifling through musty papers in historical archives (as much as he does enjoy that). He also tries to engage people both in and beyond the classroom. He studies ambassadors, but he hopes to be a sort of history ambassador, “representing” his field far and wide.