Every year since 1995, the department chairs of the College of Liberal Arts nominate a teacher from the University of Mississippi for Humanities Teacher of the Year. In the fall, the Mississippi Humanities Council selects a teacher of the year at each of the state’s institutions of higher learning. This year, Marc Lerner, associate professor of history, has been chosen to receive the award.
“I’m very honored to have received recognition,” Lerner said, “I was very touched and totally surprised, especially since I know so many others who are so deserving as well.”
While Lerner remains humble, Donald Dyer, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the university is proud of Lerner.
“Marc Lerner has been for many years one of the stars of our teaching faculty in the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History, the College of Liberal Arts and, indeed, at the University of Mississippi. The college is proud of his skills and his teaching acumen, and he is highly deserving of the Mississippi Humanities Council Award.”
Within the history department, Lerner teaches classes on the French Revolution and the Age of Revolution, as his research focuses on the period of revolution from 1750 to 1850. His current research project, which he will be speaking about Nov. 6 at the 2017 Humanities Teacher of the Year Lecture at 7 p.m. in the Bondurant Hall auditorium, focuses on the folk hero William Tell.
A 15th-century Swiss legend, the story of William Tell says he was visiting a town with his young son when he refused to bow to a passing noble, Gessler. Gessler, enraged, gave Tell a choice: execution for him and his son, or a chance at freedom if he shoots an apple off his son’s head. An expert marksman, Tell completes the task — though he removes two bolts and only uses one.
Pleased that Tell completed the task, Gessler asked why Tell removed two. Tell answered that he would have killed Gessler if he had missed and shot his son. The noble became infuriated and demanded Tell be bound and executed once more. Tell escaped and went on to lead a rebellion and kill Gessler.
Lerner’s research explores the transnational popularity of Tell’s rebellion in the age of revolution from 1750-1850. Titled “The International William Tell: Highlighting Popular Culture in a Transatlantic World,” the lecture briefly discusses how the legend of Tell not only affected Swedish nationalism and revolution but also that of other countries.
“I became interested in William Tell when doing research for another project where I found two different sides arguing about the meaning of Tell,” Lerner said. “I became interested in how a folksy symbol could be used by two diametrically opposed camps in Sweden. With further research, I found Tell’s legend was a fundamentally revolutionary symbol around the world, popular throughout Italy, America, France and the Spanish Empire during periods of revolution.”
Lerner’s research skills are not the only reason why he has been recognized, however. Dyer said Lerner is a stellar teacher.
“His colleagues and his students agree that he is a compassionate, caring and engaging teacher of history and other topics. He has been teaching classes in the Honors College for several years, as well.”
Lerner notes that he likes to teach because of “the give and take.”
“I can teach two different classes on the same subject and get very different reactions from my students,” he said. “They keep me flexible and engaged, and I like watching discussions evolve over time within the classroom.”
In February, Lerner will be publicly recognized as the Humanities Teacher of the Year at the University of Mississippi at an awards ceremony. He will join the ranks of other recipients of the award, which in the last three years has included John Gutierrez, Judson Watson and Felice A. Coles. He will receive a cash prize with the award.