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Professor Uses the Past to Teach the Future

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Gene Preuss (Photo by Thomas B. Shea)

As we grow older, the world becomes smaller. Eventually, you begin to realize that we’re all connected by only a few degrees of separation.

UHD associate professor of history Gene Preuss realized this notion at a young age, and it has served as his inspiration to learn, teach, and travel.

The Texas native grew up in New Braunfels, a town rich in German-American heritage, just north of San Antonio, near the historic Alamo and Guadalupe and Comal Rivers.

Preuss’ life was always filled with history.

Beginning with his parents sharing their experiences—his mother as a young Hispanic girl navigating the waters of segregation in school; and the rare stories from his father about serving in World War II—which he treasured most.

He also learned about his agrarian paternal grandparents thriving during the Great Depression, and how his maternal grandfather, who worked for Southern Pacific Railroad, was the first to have electricity and a television in the neighborhood.

“I think it was all the stories I heard growing up that piqued my interest in history,” said Preuss. “But my parents, especially my mother, always told me to get all the education I could and travel the world—travel as much as you can. My parents were always supportive and encouraging.”

Being a good son, he took his parents advice.

Fresh out of high school, he purchased a solo ticket to Washington, D.C. to see the historic sites, surviving the entire trip on only ice cream sandwiches.

He witnessed history on a 2005 London trip to see the Rosetta Stone and Magna Carta. As the train doors glided open, pandemonium had erupted. It was the day of the London bombing.

“It’s the unexpected twists that turn a trip into an adventure,” Preuss jokes.

Preuss received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in History from Texas State University-San Marcos and his Ph.D. in History from Texas Tech University, where he studied under American Historian Alwyn Barr, a civil war historian who’s made his career revolutionizing the way Texas African-American history is taught.

He joined the UHD faculty in 2004 and specializes in Texas and Mexican-American History, the American West, and the South after the Civil War. The author of numerous academic journals and award-winning published books, Preuss is one of only five Texas historians who regularly write on the history of education in Texas.

While at UHD, Preuss has served as Special Assistant to the President and Faculty Senate President. He has worked on the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) Program (Title V grant), which is a program that provides grants to assist HSIs to expand educational opportunities for Hispanic students. He also is active in state, regional and national history organizations and serves on the Houston Independent School District’s Hispanic Advisory Committee.

“I wanted to teach and pass down what had been done for me,” said Preuss. “A lot of UHD students, who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to travel, get to take trips through some of the historical organizations. It’s fun to be there when they experience historic sites in Texas, visit the capitol in Austin, and travel to Washington, D.C. to meet their elected representatives.”

Preuss co-led Honors Program students on a recent trip to Finland and Sweden as part of the Honor’s section of World History II.

“Examining the past helps you understand and appreciate the future,” he said. “By immersing yourself in the unfamiliar, you begin to recognize your own culture’s place in the fabric of the world.”

A trinity of knowledge and experience—history, education, travel— is Preuss’ gift to UHD students.

“When you’re in the moment, life can feel so random. It’s only later that you see the patterns or path that were being laid out for you,” said Preuss, smiling. “Perhaps life is not so random after all.”