“Until I took a class with Raymond Clemens, I never realized how much more there was out there to learn,” said Kristi Dean ’06. “He teaches everyone who takes one of his courses to always look past the mainstream, always question and to look for more than what is put in front of you.”
Dean said she has always been fascinated by history, learning the “simple things,” such as when and why an event happened and the consequences. That changed when she enrolled in several of Clemens’ courses.
“A major part of Professor Clemens’ teaching style is not just to teach what happened on this or that date, but to show you by using several books and articles that you never would have read,” Dean said. “Professor Clemens has chosen some truly unforgettable texts, such as The Cheese and the Worms, Angelo of Foligno: Complete Works to Abelard and Heloise. They are works that really show what it was like to be in that period of time, first-hand accounts of people.”
Clemens said he teaches history the way he was taught—meaning that “while names and dates are vital, they are only one part of the story, and often not the most important part.” He said, “I’ve tried to use sources that allow students to have an insight into how people in the medieval era thought about many of the same issues we deal with today.”
Clemens, who started at Illinois State in 1999, received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He said his parents always hoped he would get a degree in economics and find a well paying job in the private sector, but that they also pushed him to find work that was “meaningful to me and hopefully helpful to society.” He said he loved college classes and spent hours thinking about what his professors said.
“I realized early on that I wanted to be able to challenge undergraduates to think about things differently, even if ultimately they weren’t convinced by what I said,” Clemens said. “There are many things that motivate me to continue in my field such as students like Kristi who take several classes and enthusiastically participate in class, the hope that my students are taking what I’ve taught them into their own classrooms and the fact that I enjoy the interaction that I have with students in class–the give and take of debate and discussion. I see my role as pushing my students to think about issues rather than giving them answers, and that means every class is new for me and challenges me to think about my own assumptions.”
Clemens invites all of his students to keep in touch, and he said he is surprised at how many take him up on the offer. He enjoys hearing about their personal and professional successes, and many contact him for sources to teach in their own classes. Clemens said visiting with his history alumni is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.