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'Trivia’s not important': Matthew Andrews uses baseball to teach history


Professor Matthew Andrews poses for a portrait in his office in Hamilton Hall on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. Andrews teaches Baseball and American History, a popular course at UNC.

Teaching associate professor Matthew Andrews starts the first day of his HIST 362: Baseball and American History class each spring with a trivia quiz.

Students answer about 10 technical baseball questions, like naming the top five home run hitters in major league history. 

“At the end of the quiz, after I tell them what the answers are, I tell them to take their papers, crumple them up and throw them away,” Andrews said. “I say, that’s trivia. I love trivia, but trivia’s not important. We are not talking about trivial issues in this class, we’re talking about history.”

Andrews has taught the class every spring semester since 2015. The class seats 165 students and Andrews said it is always full. 

Andrews said he designed the course using existing literature and keeping events throughout U.S. history in mind. 

“Baseball is one of the sports that everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Mark Twain has written about,” Andrews said. “I knew that as a history course, I did not want it just to be baseball stories. I did not want it to just be baseball trivia.”

Instead, Andrews uses baseball as a way to explore segregation and desegregation, class conflict, the feminist movement and how the sport, as the national pastime, defines U.S. culture.

“There’s no sport that has meant more to Americans throughout American history than the game of baseball,” Andrews said. “The general narrative now is that baseball is no longer Americans’ favorite sport — and that’s probably right to an extent — but for 150 years, that sport was said to symbolize everything in this country.”

He said the class is a mix of baseball fans, history students and those who have taken classes with Andrews before and want to take more. 

“Without a doubt, I have a lot of baseball fans in there,” Andrews said. “I can tell, on the first day I come in and there are a lot of Atlanta Braves shirts and hats.”

Meredith Norman graduated from UNC in May and said she took the class because she is a history buff, not because she’s a baseball fan. In fact, she didn't know the rules of the game before enrolling. 

“You’re learning about the history surrounding it in the context of how it affected race relations in the past, the inclusion of women in sports, how baseball was a bridge between socioeconomic classes,” Norman said. 

Senior Anna Wagoner said she took the class because she enjoys both baseball and history, but the best part was Andrews' teaching. 

“I think for me and then some of my sorority sisters who’ve taken it, the reason we take it is Dr. Andrews,” she said. “He’s just so engaging and so helpful, and he knows a lot and loves the subject and that really shows.”

Andrews said there is an idea among baseball historians that the sport links generations more than any other sport. 

“The favorite thing that I get coming out of this course is that I get a lot of students who come to class and say, ‘I just called my grandfather and we talked about Mickey Mantle, a player from his generation and it’s the best conversation I’ve ever had with my grandfather, or grandmother,’” Andrews said. “I really like the fact that by teaching this course I help, in some small way, facilitate conversations between people and their grandparents.” 


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