The Ambassador Goes One On One with Dr. Burnie Reynolds '70

(This story is featured in the Spring 2011 edition of “The Ambassador Magazine.” The entire issue will be posted later this month.)

History professor Dr. Burnam Reynolds has been teaching at Asbury University since 1973, but his memories of the institution go back to his first visit to the Wilmore campus when he was 10. In this Q&A, he offers his take on Asbury, its students and what he feels is the most interesting period of history.

Q: What is your favorite period of history to teach?

A: The Middle Ages. When I was an undergraduate here, I took a course on the medieval institutions, and the professor was a very winning person. He really did a great job, and I thought, “Boy, this is an interesting field.” So it just kind of intrigued me. Plus, I’ve always liked the underdog, and many people consider the Middle Ages to be useless. I thought it was interesting, and sure enough, that’s what I stuck with. Which is interesting, because a lot of people don’t stick with what they start with.

Dr. Burnam Reynolds '70 has been teaching at Asbury University since 1973.
Dr. Burnam Reynolds '70 has been teaching at Asbury University since 1973.

Q: Was that the first time you can remember being very interested in history?

A: Oh, no. As a kid, instead of reading about Batman or somebody, I’d read the historical comic books they used to have back in the 1950s. I had a child’s version of a biography of Daniel Boone, stuff like that. I remember at one point I sort of memorized how the campaigns of the Civil War went, which I can’t do now. My dad was a public school principal, but originally he taught social studies. He brought home a world history book from the freshman class, and also an American history book, and I read those when I was a kid. I was kind of odd. Then when I was 11 — and I was here at Wilmore Elementary at that time — I was talking a little too much in class and the teacher said, “You’re going to have to stay in for recess for several days.” So I stayed in and there was nothing to do, and she had “The Iliad.” I read that and thought, “This is pretty cool!” So who knows how much it’s genetic or just happenstance? I’ve been interested in history a long time.

Q: Do you remember your first day as a student at Asbury?

A: Oh, yeah, I sure do. First of all, we went through what was called Freshmen Daze. We were the last class to wear little beanies. We were the Valiant Class of 1970, so we came in the fall of ’66. Our colors were orange and blue, kind of like the University of Florida or something. We had these little beanies with a V on them and we were supposed to wear them, but our class rebelled against that. But yeah, it was interesting. You find out pretty quickly you’re not in high school anymore, especially back then. For example, nobody gave review sheets before a test. Some of the history professors would write their questions for the exam on the board in cursive and say things like, “If you can’t read it, you don’t know it.” I changed my major a couple of times — that sounds familiar, I think — but it finally came back to what I’d loved all my life, which was history.

Q: If you could live during any period in history, which one would you pick? The Middle Ages?

A: You know, I’m tempted to say “yes,” but when I think of the reality of the Middle Ages — the economy was terrible, hygiene and disease was pretty rough, and life expectancy — well, I’d have been dead a long time ago because I’m 62 now — and war and things... I don’t think I would choose the Middle Ages, though I’m fascinated by them. I think I’d choose right now. I know it’s kind of a cop-out, but we really have it easy, even compared to the 1800s, you know. I like easy; it gives you time to sit back and reflect on the past travails.

Q: What’s one thing you wish your students already knew when they came into your classroom?

A: I wish they had a little more history in general. Even when they’ve had history, they’ve had it at a developmentally wrong time. I’ve noticed that people distain history, sometimes because they’re not ready to realize that what’s gone before really is shaping what’s happening now. That happens when you’re in your 20s or even 30s, in some cases. I wish there were some way that students could be introduced to history at a little later stage in their education. I think it might make more sense.

Q: What do you think is history’s greatest mystery?

A: In 410, when the Visigothic king Alaric sacked Rome, they ripped off everything they could carry that was valuable, some incredible stuff. They went south in Italy to ravage some more, and they got down in Southern Italy to a river called Buscentum — I think it’s called Busento today or something like that — and Alaric died. So the Visigoths diverted the river, went out in the middle and dug this elaborate tomb complex and put much of the treasure of Imperial Rome in there with Alaric’s body, covered it over with rocks, and let the river go back over it. So out there, literally in the river somewhere, is Alaric’s tomb with all kinds of amazing archeological treasures. I’m just expecting any day now that someone — with all of our modern detection devices — will find that treasure, like that guy found all of that Anglo-Saxon stuff in England just last year.

Q: When you think of Asbury 25 years from now, what comes to your mind?

A: I think the enrollment, hopefully, will be just as strong as it is now. I hope it’s still pretty much the same place in its emphasis on spirituality, because if it’s not, then who needs it really? The United States is littered, if you want to use that word, with schools that start off very interested in serving Christ, but could really care less about it now. I just hope we continue caring. And educationally, I hope we can continue to offer a liberal arts curriculum. Not because that’s going to get you a job, because there aren’t a lot of liberal arts jobs. But what it does, I think, for example, if you’re in Media Communications and you have some liberal arts grounding, it puts you a little ahead of somebody who just knows how to push the buttons. I hope we maintain that, I really do. It enriches us all.

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