Having taught history at UCLA for 37 years, Geoffrey Symcox has seen his students emulate him as university historians and teachers throughout the nation.
Symcox received degrees from Oxford, Stockholm University and UCLA. He is one of those very rare people to be hired directly from completion of his doctorate at UCLA to join the faculty.
Described as the most versatile undergraduate teacher in the history of the department, Symcox has taught almost every general education course in European or world history. His courses have ranged from Western Civilization, World History, European History (particularly French and Italian), the Dutch Golden Age, the Voyages of Columbus, and the Sicilian Mafia. Over the last two years, he has taught eight different courses. Even as he moves close to retirement, he rewrites his lectures just before going into the classroom to incorporate new material from his current reading, bring his lectures up to date and to clarify his ideas.
He regularly pauses to ask for questions and succeeds in getting them. Students who are unaccustomed to participating in class find themselves doing so, even in large lecture halls. Students are sometimes puzzled to find that his interpretation during a lecture differs from the accounts in the assigned readings. This is Symcox’s useful way of bringing home the basic lesson that there is no fixed interpretation of the past and that historians can look at the same events in very different ways.
Symcox is one of the first members of the UCLA faculty to make his lectures available to students as webcasts. This innovation works as a supplement rather than an alternative to in-class lectures. More than half his students report that they use the webcasts to review material in preparation for examinations.
Symcox has distinguished himself for his breadth and depth of knowledge, his wit, his classically constructed and highly effective lectures, his ability to inspire and challenge his students to meet the highest standards, his ability to teach critical thinking, his generosity as a mentor at the individual level, his intellectual modesty, and above all his devotion to the art of teaching students, from freshman to doctoral dissertation writer.