By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.
“My grandfather was an historian,” Vejas Liulevicius tells me over coffee at Panera. “He was also a refugee from Lithuania after World War II to the United States.” Vejas has been a professor in the Department of History at UTK for the past twenty years. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a largely Lithuanian American neighborhood. However, he attended school in both Denmark and Germany for many years. These experiences, along with his grandfather’s enthusiasm, led him to earn a Ph.D. in modern German history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994.
“The lecture still has a place in the educational system,” Vejas argues as we discuss his own UTK courses and his association with The Great Courses. “How many lectures by great professors are lost to us? I would love to have heard the insights from my profession’s greatest historians, if only I could.” His favorite lecture course is the History of Espionage, which examines the role of spies from the Ancient World to the present. With the recent controversy surrounding Edward Snowden, the course brings lessons to current events.
“The Great Courses nomination process is mysterious,” he says. “The company has to contact you to develop a course.” Vejas has had tremendous success with his Great Courses lecture series. He says it takes about nine days in their studios to produce a course after he has written the script. Turning Points in Modern History is reviewed in this issue. His espionage course became Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History. Furthermore, he has courses on Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century, World War I: The Great War, History’s Greatest Voyages of Exploration, History of Eastern Europe, and War, Peace, and Power: Diplomatic History of Europe, 1500-2000. (Note: Most Great Courses go on sale regularly and are very affordable.)
Started by the late Charles Johnson, the Center built an enormous World War II manuscript collection through hundreds of interviews.
Vejas is also Director of The Center for the Study of War and Society at UTK. The Center collects interviews and documents related to veterans’ experience during and after wartime. Started by the late Charles Johnson, the Center built an enormous World War II manuscript collection through hundreds of interviews. Currently, the Center is also interviewing aging veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars; all audiotapes have been digitized. “We’re not only interested in combat experience,” Vejas notes, “but the larger picture of how war impacts all aspects of society.” Graduate students from the Center have won major research fellowships in the last five years.
Since I was a History undergraduate major at UTK in the 1970s, Vejas and I enjoyed talking about professors that we both knew. His wife, Kathleen, also an historian, is finishing a book on Reconstruction in Tennessee, an important period whose controversies still linger. His children, Paul and Helen, attend Saint John Neumann. “I would love to do a course on the History of Royalty,” Vejas muses. As we part, I tell him I look forward to that course and to talking about history again.
Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.