Department of History

Matthew Bowser

Date of Degree: Bachelor of Philosophy in History and Classics (Double Major), 2013
Current Position: Assistant Professor of Asian History, Alabama A&M University

When I declared my major in History at Pitt in 2010, I had no intention of becoming a History Professor. I had already heard how hard the academic job market was becoming, especially for PhDs in the humanities. Instead, I majored in history because it was my favorite academic subject. It was the subject I enjoyed learning, thinking, and writing about the most, so I figured that I’d play to my strengths. I didn’t originally have a post-graduate plan beyond “working somewhere in an office,” where I could make money to survive and ideally put my critical thinking and research skills to good use. But the academic world kept pulling me back in. At each new juncture, I kept thinking, “Okay, it’s time to leave history behind and ‘get serious’ about my career.” Rather than being a pre-planned itinerary, I’d describe my career path as more resembling controlled chaos, making seemingly ad hoc decisions at each step of the way. But, looking back, it appears like I took a straight line from the History Department at Pitt to my current position. I realized that, even though it seemed like each step in my career was random, each opportunity stemmed directly from my experience at Pitt, forming an invisible path that I could only see once I had reached the other side.

I graduated with a double-major in history and classics in 2013, receiving a Bachelor of Philosophy from the University Honors College. As will become the theme, my choice of majors was not a strategic economic decision (and I’m sure most other history majors can relate!). Instead, I loved the classics as a kid (especially ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome), and I wanted to explore my academic passions. But while taking my modern requirements, I became enthralled with modern world history and how it could directly inform us about the world we live in today. In particular, I became absolutely obsessed (and horrified) with just how much Euroamerican colonialism had warped the modern world in its image. I attribute this obsession entirely to the incredible professors in the History Department – namely Leslie Hammond (for the Honors Capstone), Bernard Hagerty (for British History), and Patrick Manning (for World History) – and to my history advisors, Tony Novosel and John Stoner, who made being a historian fun and exciting. By Dr. Novosel’s suggestion, I took an internship at the Advising Office as a Peer Advisor, helping incoming freshmen to find their passions too.

Then came graduation and I thought I had reached the end of my academic journey. Now it was time to “get a real job.” But what was the first real job I got? Admissions Counselor (and then Student Services) at Penn Foster College, a school in my hometown. I got the job as a direct result of my Peer Advisor internship at Pitt. Being surrounded by an academic setting, I once again got the itch to continue my education, and I eventually ended up applying for PhD programs for modern world history. In 2015, I got in to Northeastern University on a full stipend. Why? Because, like Pitt, Northeastern housed one of the few dedicated World History programs in the US, and my world-historical writing sample (comparing British and American imperialism at the turn of the 20th century) spoke directly to my future advisor, Dr. Heather Streets-Salter, who had worked directly with Dr. Manning. So, even though I didn’t plan it this way, Pitt’s History Department had prepared me for success in surprising and serendipitous ways throughout my career and provided the “invisible hand” that guided me to following me to my passions.

Through a combination of my excellent training (and not a small amount of luck and privilege), I am now on the other side of the academic job market and starting my Assistant Professorship at Alabama A&M University in September 2022. As I start this new journey, I can’t help but reflect on the fantastic set of professors that first ignited the academic passions that would eventually lead me here.