"You may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. When the world finds you, have something to offer."
In an era of distance learning and virtual classrooms, Professor Bhat’s approach to teaching can sound a little retro: “Teaching is a human process,” he says. “It’s a deeply human thing.”
It’s the kind of thing that he believes works best when you have a real, in-the-flesh teacher interacting in a real classroom with real students who, on a good day, get real enthusiastic and passionate about what they’re learning. It’s hard to get that kind of passion from a Skype chat.
One of the topics Professor Bhat wants students to get passionate about is early 20th century Russia, which saw two world wars, the Russian Revolution and dictator Joseph Stalin casting his shadow over it all. He draws students into that era by contrasting their lives with the events of History 465, a.k.a. “the Stalin course.” “There are huge events going on in Russia,” Professor Bhat says. “And they are tremendously traumatic.
"Americans don’t know war in that way. The closest thing to it for students is 9/11, and that wasn’t a land invasion. It’s an experience that can’t possibly be imagined.”
Professor Bhat uses pictures, artifacts, art, literature and music of the past to make history come alive for students. And his style works — in 2010 he won the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Illuminating history in ways that enable students to find meaning in it is one of the things that makes Professor Bhat’s job satisfying. Another is broadening their understanding of the larger world around them. And yet another is helping them figure out their place in that world.
“Leon Trotsky said, ‘You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,’” Professor Bhat says. “I turn that around and say to students, ‘You may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. When the world finds you, have something to offer.’”