Dr. Chris Burkett: Acting chair of the history and political science department

Department chair spotlight


Submitted by Ben Kunkel

Dr. Chris Burkett, acting chair of the history and political science department at AU.


A conversation that is documented is making history. Students taking history and political science classes can expect to get in on those historical conversations.

Dr. Chris Burkett is an associate professor of political science and acting chair of the history and political science department at Ashland University.

“We offer a unique approach, I think, in many ways to the way we teach history and political science, with a sense that we do it a little differently than other programs do in other institutions,” Burkett said. “For one thing, we take our bearing in all of our history and political science courses from the reading of original documents and texts.”

This department is more than memorizing dates, people and events; it is looking into the cause of these events.

“We have to think about what human beings are like, because human beings cause history, [it doesn’t] simply just happen,” Burkett said. “So to get into the minds of the human beings that have caused history, we read what they left behind of their minds, their writings, their books, their documents and their speeches. It allows us to make sense of the dates and allows us to ask the question: why? History means we want to know why.”

The rarity of textbooks is not something college students are used to. Part of a student’s routine is to spend time looking for the cheapest, used textbooks.

Political science majors only use them for background information. Just like history, political science is all about human beings: what we do and why we do it.

“..Not just what are the laws, but what laws are good and which laws are bad,” Burkett said. “What form of government is good or best? What makes bad government a bad government? We ask questions like that and we turn to the greatest thinkers in history, stretching from Plato and Aristotle through John Locke, Machiavelli, to modern thinkers, presidents and statesmen.”

Among the history and political science classes, the main aspect of this department is teaching students how to think for themselves. This gets them ready for life after graduation.

“When students come to college for the first time, they often experience a freedom in a way they have never experienced before,” Burkett said. “When they leave college, they’re going to experience another kind of freedom. It’s a freedom of really being on your own and needing to be self-reliant and self-governing. We try to prepare students to be able to do that well by engaging in thinking for oneself over the course of four years.”

Internships are not required, but they are encouraged.

Graduates of the history and political science department have gone on to law school and graduate school. Some notable positions graduates work in are working for congressmen and women, the Ohio Legislature and at least one working for the Attorney General’s office.

Some graduates are even advisors for policy think tanks, especially foreign policy and international relations think tanks.

Think tanks are groups that research and influence policy-making. These policies are often presented to the president’s staff or Congress through testimony and Congressional Hearings.

There are also graduates who do not go into politics, but use the skills learned from AU and apply them to business.

One history graduate earned her degree and she is now a consultant for corporations.

“We stay in touch with graduates and we encourage them to stay in touch with us,” Burkett said. “Occasionally, we get people coming to us saying ‘we like your students, we need someone to do this for our PR firm. Can you recommend somebody to us?’ So a lot of times we’ll think of not just current students, but graduates who we think will be a good fit for that.”

Burkett is in his 15th year teaching at AU and has been the acting chair for three months.

“I was an undergrad student in the ‘90s, I was a fine arts major and a history major,” Burkett said. “I worked for a company for 14 years before going to grad school. I went to grad school at the University of Dallas and it just so happened that when I finished my course work there, there was a one year opening at Ashland. My family and I moved back here for that one year position and it turned out to be a permanent position. I’m happy to be back.”

When students graduate, they are expected to become a productive member of society. While part of that is learning to think for oneself, it is also the “study of history and politics is part of the education all students receive as citizens,” Burkett said.

Students with questions can email Burkett at [email protected]