War. Great migrations. The rise and fall of empires. The grand sweep of history can overwhelm the hapless student struggling to get her arms around social movements and emergent philosophies.
Early in his distinguished 40-year career at Cal State Northridge, historian Charles Macune hit upon a way to help his students penetrate the material: he simply put a human face on history. Then another. And another.
One by one, an entire gallery of faces from all walks of life, centuries, countries and territories began to appear in Macune’s classroom. In character and in richly detailed costume from the moment they walk in the door, these visitors regale the students with firsthand accounts of their adventures and misadventures.
Their one common denominator is Macune himself, sole impersonator, costume director and raconteur extraordinaire.
“I just think story-telling is a powerful way of informing and impressing people about important issues and historic figures, a way that is often remembered a long, long time,” said the self-effacing former History Department chair, winner of the campus’ 1996 Distinguished Teaching and 2006 Outstanding Faculty awards.
A natural-born showman, Macune has developed a colorful repertoire of more than 60 historical characters. “The past is …here, in me,” said Macune, quoting Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. “The past is I.”
As Francisco Rendón (left), brakeman for the Moctezuma Copper Company Railroad, he tells the story of mining railroad engineer Jesús García Corona (1883-1907), who sacrificed his life to save the 5,000 residents of Nacozari, Mexico, from death by fiery train wreck.
His Judge Martín Monsalve Fuencerrada of Venezuela (right) presided over the 1948 murder trial of one Señorita Ligia Parra Jahn, who shot her former fiancé in a complicated case of honor and evolving social mores.
Through the sober Bartolomeo Colombo (center), possibly Columbus’ younger brother, Macune acquainted students with “the Castilian exploration/colonization experience in the New World.”
From Robespierre to 1880s gambler “Deuce” McEwan of Cripple Creek, dozens have channeled their stories through Macune. So convincing was a 2001 “visit” by Chiapas revolutionary Sub Comandante Marcos—complete with ski mask and army fatigues—that police were summoned to investigate.
The author of seminal works in his field—his concentration is Mexico and Latin America—Macune has chaired the Southwestern Historical Association and developed an innovative two-semester graduate course of research and intensive writing at the University of Texas’ Center of American History.
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