Written by Aguiele Ndoungla, Writer
Austin College prides itself on the skilled and passionate professors who compose its faculty. One such professor is Dr. Felix Harcourt, who teaches history at Austin College since 2017. Although he is fairly new at the institution compared to some of his peers, Dr. Harcourt has already made his mark in his career, having been featured or cited in newspapers and news shows such as the Guardian, the New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, and C-Span. He has also mentored students in research presented at the Austin College Student Scholarship Conference. His curiosity and awe of the fact that everything has a history has driven him to be the history lover he is today. “Historical work is a form of detective work”, he adds, emphasizing on his passion for his field of study.
Despite being originally from England, Dr. Harcourt has found a passion for American history. Jokingly, he often says, “there’s just too much British History, there’s much less American history so it’s easier”. According to him, the way America is portrayed in the movies and other products in his environment created this vision of America as a land of dreams where everybody is equal, “the promise of America”. Yet, history revealed a totally different face of the idyllic United States, often stained with bloodshed and a continuous system of inequalities. This disconnect between the dream and the reality fueled Dr. Harcourt’s curiosity, which resulted in the publication of his first book: Ku Klux Kulture: America and the Klan in the 1920s. In this book, Dr. Harcourt presents different facts about the Ku Klux Klan or KKK, especially during the 1920s, when it was a white terrorist movement who claimed to be the “True Americans” and strongly advocated against immigration. One outstanding point of this piece is the contribution of journalism to the soaring power, influence and membership of the KKK in the period, “about 4 to 5 million members” he said. An example of normalization of the KKK in newspapers in the 1920s, which also started this research, is the publication of a baseball game between a Jewish team and a KKK team, without any criticism at all of the clan or questions about how such an event took place. An issue though is the fact that even bad press about the clan would still benefit it. Having presented this part of American history, Dr. Harcourt also hopes to shine the light on an on-going debate in Journalism: the question on how to touch on certain groups with extremists or terrorist-like views without giving them high exposure and an opportunity to grow.
Apart from his writing, Dr.Harcourt works on different important projects, among which, the “Racial Violence & Resistance” research project with Dr. Claire Wolnisty and the support of Austin College and its humanities department under Dr. Greg Kinzer. This initiative is part of a multiyear project “Legacies of American Slavery: Reckoning with the Past.” sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). The CIC meticulously selected seven college partners among which Austin College. “Racial Violence & Resistance” involves retracing two important historical facts: the existence of what was once one of the most vibrant black trade centers in Sherman and in Texas; and the atrocious murder of George Hughes at the Sherman courthouse through arson. For context, Sherman has “the oldest confederate monument in Texas” which stands on the lawn of a courthouse that once burned in 1930 in the attempt of murdering a black man called George Hughes, who was accused of sexual assault. After failing to assault the building, a mob burned it down, killing Hughes whose body was then hanged in front of one of the most vibrant black business districts in Texas at the time. They then proceeded to burn the area too. Through this project in collaboration with Dr. Wolnisty, Dr.Harcourt wishes to educate the general population about the History of Sherman which is not often talked about.
Going back to the racial inequalities, Dr. Harcourt encourages us to analyze ourselves internally by asking the question: “How am I contributing, or the very least, how am I not working against systems of oppression and ignorance in the world around me?” He notes that when certain groups like the KKK exist, people often fail to recognize their own stigma because it does not manifest the same violent way. However, someone can still play a role in the continuing system of inequalities without necessarily being as physically violent. Hence the importance of constant self-evaluation.
Dr. Harcourt can be found in Admin 124 and is always available to chat via email firstname.lastname@example.org.