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Bryn Upton, Ph.D.

An enthusiastic and knowledgeable History professor who pushes students to think like historians.

Enthusiastic | Knowledgeable | Caring
History repeats itself is one common misconception Bryn Upton hears as a History professor. He believes history never repeats itself — the themes may be similar, and the outcomes may feel familiar, but it is not a repeat. “The less you know about history, the easier that it is to imagine you’d always be on the right side of it,” is a much better expression to Upton, who came to McDaniel in 2002 with a post-doctoral fellowship for Black scholars. Upton teaches Modern U.S. History, U.S. Intellectual History, Black History, and Women’s History.
Why is History an important subject to study?
Studying history can help us feel grounded and connected to who we are, but it can also make us feel cut loose or betrayed when we learn something new about our history that contradicts what we had already learned. History is contested space. At the heart of so many of our disagreements are our interpretations of the past. I have had students get very upset with me because they have learned history that is different from what I teach or the way I teach. Challenging their understanding of history is like challenging their whole system of belief. At its best, understanding history requires empathy and helps us to expand our understanding of what it means to be human.
If you could go back in history to one specific event to witness it firsthand, what would it be and why?
I would say the Constitutional Convention. I want to know what they were saying, to have the ability to judge their tone, and to understand what they thought they were doing.
When students take courses in History, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
As a field, history is expansive and interdisciplinary. I want students to understand that it is so much more than a chronology of facts and dates. We often talk about the five C’s of historical thinking: change over time, context, causality, contingency, and complexity. I want students to learn to think like a historian and to want to learn more about the past.

About Prof. Upton

Professor of History
Subjects: African American History, American History
Department: History

Outside of the Classroom


He became a professor in a different way than most after dropping out of high school at the age of 16 and working in restaurants and a plastic factory, before going back to school to earn his degrees.


"We make a lot of pizza at my house and I have a nice basic pizza dough recipe I use – bread flour, water, salt, yeast – that is it.”


In college, he was a decathlete, which led to him becoming an assistant track coach at McDaniel.