By Sam Rosoff
BRIDGEPORT – David Koch of Redding, an Associate Professor of History at Housatonic Community College, considers himself to be on a mission to help educate people about history.
Koch, who will be speaking at the Southbury Public Library on March 14 at 6:30 p.m. about the causes of the Civil War, has been lecturing across the state because he believes that having knowledge of history is both interesting and beneficial.
He said he now has about 45 speaking engagements every year, and that number has been rising. He attributes his growing success as a public speaker to the fact that he’s a reliable speaker and he engages his audiences. “When people find out that you’re timely and your audiences like you, they love to bring you back,” Koch said. “So everything that I’m doing now is repeat work.”
In his childhood, Koch was first attracted to history when his father’s World War II paraphernalia collection piqued his interest. This interest was renewed when he was in college, which led him to pursue a Master’s Degree in this field at Western Connecticut State University.
His interest in the Civil War soon followed. After graduating, he became an Interpretive Ranger for the National Park Service in Gettysburg. “You can’t work there without getting into the Civil War,” he said. “It’s just amazing to be around.”
Working at Gettysburg was his introduction to public speaking, but he polished this skill speaking about American folk culture while living in Hungary for five years in the ‘90s. He said people were fascinated by America in Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe. “The Berlin Wall had just fallen, so there was a lot of interest in Native Americans, the Civil War, and American society,” Koch said.
In 2009, Koch first started to approach local libraries and historical societies to discuss the bicentennial of the births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. After the first few speaking arrangements, his reputation as a speaker took hold. Now, libraries approach him. Koch said topics about the Civil War have been especially popular because of the war’s ongoing 150th anniversary, which began in 2011 and will continue through 2015.
Today, as a history professor, Koch is used to speaking in front of groups of varying sizes. He especially enjoys the size of library turnouts at libraries because of the high level of interaction and discussion they generate.
Occasionally, Koch said he has attracted audience members to attend HCC, some of whom age 62 and older who are eligible for tuition-free courses. “Many were surprised to learn this,” Koch said.
Last April, Koch arranged for Civil War re-enactors to set up a camp at Housatonic, where students were able to see the uniforms and firearms firsthand. He’s hoping to bring them back this year, perhaps along with Revolutionary War re-enactors for direct comparison.
He said he has seen many younger people, as well as his colleagues, who share his enthusiasm for making sure that society doesn’t lose the knowledge of its history. “This is our history,” Koch said. “We can gain spiritual strength from the fact that no matter who you are or where your family comes from, we all share this incredible history.”
Koch will also be speaking at the Southbury Public Library on March 21 about the 20th Connecticut Infantry and on March 28 about Civil War leaders; they will both be held at 6:30 p.m.
Sam Rosoff is a journalism intern at Housatonic Community College.