Dr. Timothy Berg grew up on an island off the coast of Florida and has lived in such places as the Atlanta, Georgia area, Washington, D.C., and his favorite place, New York City. He earned a B.A. in history from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in history from Purdue University in 1999. Later, he evolved from a scholar into an artist working in photography and painting. He’s married to Dr. Deborah Mix, a professor of English here at Ball State. They have two children, Sadie and Georgia. He’s been to more Bob Dylan concerts than you have fingers and toes.
What benefits do you see in the Humanities?
The humanities help us come home to ourselves, to find our own spiritual homecoming, to help us cross a threshold into a more emerging fullness as human beings, a more rounded, substantial becoming, as poet John O’Donohue once said. And they help us connect to others, to see our affinity with all things in the cosmos.
What is the goal of your classes?
My classes are a kind of group therapy. We don’t deal with anyone’s particular problems, but we work collectively to better understand the larger issues we face as human beings, and to work together to better appreciate the great beauty of being alive.
We do that by :
- grappling with and spending time with great ideas and great texts.
- helping students become more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and change and to be in those spaces without feeling lost. We work on that emerging fullness and more rounded, substantial becoming I mentioned above.
Related to these goals is one of my favorite lines from poet Mary Oliver: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” That about sums up my approach: helping students do what Oliver instructs. Seven simple words, that’s enough.
How did you get into teaching Honors?
I came to Ball State in 2003 and joined the History Department part time. I was asked to fill in for a departed Honors faculty member and then went on to apply for that position. I wasn’t sure I wanted the job, as it would take me out of my content specialty at the time, post-1945 U.S. History. But a senior member of the History Department (and Honors faculty member), Tony Edmonds (now retired) pushed me to apply. He saw something in me that I did not yet recognize in myself. I applied and got the job! I owe Tony a great debt in pushing me to go where I needed to be.
How would you describe your perspective on teaching?
I like the coaching therapist model. I like to be the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.
I’m not an expert on anything in terms of content. What I am good at, I think, is guiding people to find their own truths via the work we do grappling with big and sometimes strange ideas.
My classes are also like Amish barn raisings – we have a general idea what we’re aiming to do but we are all bringing different skills, backgrounds, and perspectives to the task. My role, then, is to create the positive conditions where this building can take place.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I am an artist and teacher, not a scholar. In particular, I’m a painter. I’m working on new paintings all the time. I had a show at The Cup in the Village last semester and I’ll have a painting in the Minnetrista show this semester. I’m also happy to be involved in the Honors Blog and Social Media project and I’m always developing creative teaching ideas.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel. It’s about five female abstract expressionist painters working in New York in the mid-twentieth century.
They had been left out of the earlier histories of painting of this era, so this book is correcting that gender imbalance. It’s a doorstop of a book, but a great story of how and why they made their work, which I greatly admire.
One of the painters featured in the book, Joan Mitchell, has a painting on display in the David Owsley Museum of Art here at Ball State. Go see it!
What are some of your hobbies or interests?
In addition to art making, I’m an amateur musician. I’ve been playing guitar since the late 1970s. I play lead guitar in a faculty band. We’re ragged but we have fun playing.
Who are your biggest role models, dead or alive?
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Mary Oliver, John O’Donohue, my wife, and too many painters and photographers to mention.
What is a piece of advice you would offer your students?
- Don’t be bound by anyone else’s definition or vision of success.
- Our job is to figure out for ourselves how we relate to the mysteries of the universe, to find out what our path to the transcendent is, and then to pursue that path.
- It might be your paid job or it might not. Either way, be true to that vision.
- Oh, and pay attention, be astonished, and then tell about it in your way.
Do that and you’ll live a great life.