Ask an Antelope: Torsten Homberger uses personal experiences to teach history lessons

Torsten Homberger is an assistant professor in the UNK Department of History, where he’s taught since 2015. He first came to Kearney as an exchange student in 1998, then returned in spring 2000 as a degree-seeking international student. Homberger earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history and a master’s degree in history from UNK before completing his doctorate in modern European history at Washington State University.

Why did you decide to become a history professor?
I grew up in the East German Stalinist dictatorship. Growing up, I wanted to know more about why my family was stuck on “the wrong side” of the Iron Curtain. My interest in history has never left.

Tell me about your interest in modern Europe and the classes you teach:
When I teach about Stalinism and fascism, I can draw on the stories of my grandparents and parents, as well as my own experiences. I like to show American college students where and why Europeans went wrong, so we can all learn important lessons from the past.

Why did you choose UNK as a place to work?
Kearney is a good place for me and my family. I am a product of UNK, and I was happy to be able to come back here.

What do you love most about your job?
I love working with students. I also love to be able to conduct research and publish my findings. Ultimately, I also enjoy being a part of the campus community and sharing my expertise with the wider Kearney community.

Why is history such an important subject?
It is important to know how we, as humans, got to be where we are. It is crucial to know how and why nation states evolved, how our American institutions developed and function, and how liberal democracy and capitalism work. Without this knowledge it is difficult to be an informed voter and citizen today.

How do your courses prepare UNK students for their futures?
In my courses, students learn the basics of modern European history. That, however, is not all. Students of history learn how to read documents closely, how to develop an argument, and how to put this argument into writing, a podcast, a film, etc. These analytical skills prepare my students for a wide array of careers.

What sets UNK’s History Department apart from other universities?
Our history department is in the proverbial Goldilocks zone. Unlike larger schools, our faculty are scholars and teachers. At large schools the faculty do research and the teaching is done by teaching assistants. Unlike smaller colleges, on the other hand, UNK has a large group of faculty teaching a wide variety of courses offering a wide array of specialty areas. Because of that, our department differs from other universities.

“Ask an Antelope” is a new Q&A series highlighting UNK faculty and staff and their impact on the campus and community.