On the (global) road with Derek Catsam

UTPB History Professor in on the

UTPB History Professor in on the "global" road thanks to a fellowship.

Kelsie Clifton, Features Writer and Columnist

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University of Texas of the Permian Basin History professor, Derek Catsam, recently left abroad to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, on a Hugh le May Fellowship. He plans to spend a few months in that country until mid-June.

The Hugh le May Fellowship that he went on is something that is available to senior scholars in alternative years who plan to devote themselves through advanced work in philosophy, classics, history and languages.

In an interview, Professor Catsam expressed how his passion for Africa came about.

“I spent a year in South Africa in 1997 as a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I already had been working on issues of race and politics in the United States, so the opportunity to go to South Africa was a logical and natural fit.”

He said that he enjoys traveling and seeing different parts of the world, but still misses the U.S. at times. If he had it his way he would split his time in both Africa and America 50/50.

“I love being out in the world, recognizing that there is more than just my world, more than just the U.S. I will steal a line from a friend—when I am in the U.S. I miss Africa even though when I am in Africa I miss the U.S.”

Professor Catsam said that he is currently working on two book projects and will continue to so during his time abroad.

“I am working on two books, one on bus boycotts in the U.S. and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and one on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby tour to the U.S. The bus boycotts book emerged naturally from my book Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides, the rugby book emerges from my experiences playing rugby in South Africa and my interest in the ways that politics and sport intersect.”

At UTPB Professor Catsam teaches a course, The Civil Rights Movement, and believes that racism is still an issue in the U.S. and will continue to be one.

“Let’s just say that we are a long way from reaching the Promised Land in the United States.” He believes that South Africa and the U.S. both could learn a lot through their experiences. “Race and racism are global issues. We have much to learn from the experiences of South Africa and South Africans can learn from our experiences.”

What Professor Catsam enjoys most about being an instructor at UTPB is his students, and great colleagues who he believes punches way above their weight.

He believes that any student who wants to travel abroad and one day have the same opportunities he has right now just has to take the plunge and fully pursue their dream.

“In order to do it, you have to do it. That sounds obvious, but it’s true—if you want to travel abroad, figure out a way to do it. I grew up poor and there was no way my family could pay my way to go abroad. I found a way to make it happen. There is a big world out there. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that Odessa, Texas, or the United States are the end all and be all.”

Since being in Africa, Professor Catsam has written one article for a South African newspaper (The Herald, based in Port Elizabeth, the largest city in the Eastern Cape of South Africa) and is in the process of working on other journalism in addition to his books.

Catsam’s news  column.

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