Cura Personalis: Kelly DeVries, Ph.D.
July 12, 2011
Kelly DeVries has been on the history department faculty at Loyola since 1991, specializing in European history from 300-1500 A.D. He earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and did his graduate and doctoral work at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies. Characterizing himself “not as a social scientist but as a liberal artist,” DeVries has invited a generation of Loyola students to accompany him on a journey of discovery in the humanities.
What for you is the essence of doing good research in the liberal arts and sciences?
Good scholarship, because it always derives from something else, is without a doubt a creative process. The interpretation you bring to bear is perhaps the most original thing you can do with scholarship in the humanities. Without good,
original interpretation, scholarship fails. We often think of intellectualism as being something that comes from the head, but it also comes from the heart; you feel as well as think about the subject. If you stop feeling and go solely with your head, you’ve lost the creativity and validity that informs good scholarship.
Do students today think critically enough about the world and their place in it?
If you look at the students now coming in and how they approach things, you see that issues such as gender, race, and homosexuality that bothered us and our parents and grandparents don’t bother them as much. This is a generation
that thinks little of premarital sex, for example. In my generation, that may have been breaking down, but it was an issue. From what I’ve seen, students today have not created the wasteland that our parents thought would come from an abundance of choices and practices.
Do students today have a harder time being scholars because of the demands technology places on them, their time, and their attention?
I don’t think so, but I’ll bet every single one of my colleagues will probably say that’s the wrong answer. I do think students have a lot more to discover than we did because of the digital age. For example, they have the languages to learn that we never did—dealing with computers and technology and so forth. These are students who are comfortable multitasking and they do it fairly efficiently. What we value they might not value. We should take as an example the freshness of their innocence that hasn’t been jaded by concerns we had at their age. We should of course be introducing them to new things, capturing their interests, and if they need us to do mentoring, take it to the next level. But I sometimes think maybe we ought to be learning from them as much as teaching them.
What do you see in the future for the humanities at Loyola?
Loyola is not aiming for the mediocre; we’re shooting for the stars. That’s the real defining point. It’s why we’ve increased our number of students and why we’ve raised the bar on the quality of students. I’ve seen that quality go up extraordinarily over the past few years. For example, my honors class this past semester was probably the best I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been teaching in the honors program.
What career advice would you offer students and young alumni who are hooked on the study of history?
At age 19, I read Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw has Henry Higgins say, “Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby.” And I have managed to do that. That’s why I would suggest to students that you do what you love. But realize that it takes real bravery to follow what one loves. Recognize that you may need to sacrifice for others or for yourself. Be willing to make those sacrifices. Seek for love and beauty. Happiness is possible.