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Featured Faculty: Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns, originally from Murrysville, PA, is an assistant professor of history. With a B.A. from Kenyon College, an M.A. in philosophy from Cambridge College, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Burns was attracted to JSU due to its reputation of being the friendliest campus in the South. He called it a community where academic excellence is met with the support needed to reach that academic excellence.

He said, “I get the sense that everyone, students and faculty alike, take pride in each other’s success and help shoulder each other’s burdens. It’s rare to find a university like that.”

Burns’ specialty is British History, focusing on the history of shame. His research explores the psychological pressure imposed on religious nonconformists by public penance and humiliation.

Currently, Burns is teaching Western Civilization, a course that includes a variety of diverse topics, such as the fall of Rome and the war in Ukraine. He’s excited about a Golden Age of Piracy course, which he will be teaching in Spring 2023.

His favorite part of his job has been talking with students outside of class about the material they are covering in class. He said that this gives him a chance “to see what stuck with them and what they have questions about—which I can then use to tailor my teaching a bit in the future. And I get to know a little more about them in the process.”

When asked about his favorite part of the History and Foreign Languages Department as a whole, he mentioned the friendly and welcoming atmosphere created by his colleagues. He credited it as “one reason why I was so happy to get the chance to come to JSU” and why “our little hallway on the third floor of the Stone Center is already starting to feel like a second home.”

During his time at JSU, Burns hopes to make a memorable impact on students, helping them become better writers. With challenging writing assignments, he hopes to enhance students’ writing skills in a “supportive yet vigorous environment.” He believes that it’s the most important skill he can offer because its use goes well beyond the material covered in his class.

Currently, Burns is working on writing an article about immigration and religion in early modern Scotland; in it he discusses border enforcements after the Reformation. He covers the origin, evasion methods of immigrants, and development of modern versions of Scotland’s border enforcement system used during the early modern era that only permitted people of a certain religious background.

Burns was recently interviewed for Sweetbitter, a gender history podcast, during which he had the opportunity to discuss nontraditional pirates, such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Visit to listen to the episode.

In his spare time, Burns enjoys biking, spending time with his family and puppy, and traveling. After exploring Alabama over the past few weeks and taking advantage of the shorter distance to New Orleans, Burns and his family are planning their next trip to Helen, GA.

When asked what advice he would offer his students, he said that it’s okay to struggle sometimes. We won’t succeed at everything we try, but “it’s an opportunity to learn, to reflect on errors and mistakes, and to grow as a person. And it also helps build the confidence necessary to take on risk.”

The College of Arts and Humanities welcomes Burns to the faculty and to JSU.

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