Professor Receives Prestigious Award
Unique Teaching Style Earns History Professor Burpee Civic Award
Published: Friday, February 3, 2006
Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010 16:01
Often times, a war is recalled with memorable battles, important dates and various trivial facts. The professor teaches, tests the students and students receive credit. However, Professor Michael Dintenfass' teaching style lures the class into the minds of soldiers and veterans alike, allowing his students to hear the stories of war as opposed to numerical facts.
Surrounded by history in the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville, Dintenfass received the prestigious Thomas Burpee Civic Award on behalf of the Alden Skinner Camp 45 of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. Thomas Burpee, a Rockville native, led his troops through numerous battles until he was mortally wounded in 1864, according to the press release.
The ceremony honored his unique teaching styles and innovative insight toward the history of war. Former student David Agrawal nominated the professor for the award and holds Dintenfass in the highest regards. Despite Agrawal not being able to attend, he praised Dintenfass through a letter presented during the ceremony.
"Michael is an outstanding historian, a great teacher and an outstanding mentor," Agrawal said in the letter. "He has touched the lives of many students through his workings. University professors often place an emphasis on research, while ignoring teaching responsibilities. Michael has placed an emphasis on teaching his students."
A typical Dintenfass lecture is one that is commonly characterized as the "anti-lecture" in that he uses poetry, music, stories, archived documents and diaries to teach the history of war, according to the press release.
"The history of war is history of what it means to be human," Dintenfass said in his acceptance speech. "To enter history, we must listen carefully and closely to those who are most intimate with war."
According to Dintenfass, history is not about dates and landmark events. Rather it is about focusing on the individuals in battle and teaching as such requires a more individual approach. "At the end of the year I had a student say that the class was more like a religion class," Dintenfass said. "But it's not me who made it that way. It's the soldiers. They experienced it."
After beginning his tenure at UConn in 2003, Dintenfass has touched the lives of many students that have passed in and out of his classroom. In some ways students hated the class, but Agrawal loved it. Either way, Dintenfass teaches students the essence of what it means to be at war and to be a historian - a talent, according to Agrawal, lacking in many professors.
"When trying to understand what it's like to be at war, you have to hear from those who came belly to belly with the beast, looked it eye to eye," Dintenfass said. "There are two problems with this. One being that those in the thick of it can't tell you what it's like. And others express that we wouldn't understand it anyway."