Hamish Lutris is well-known for his mastery of history and the many exceptionally engaging classes he has taught over the years, including the history of flight, WWII, the 1960s and countless others. One topic, however, has remained elusive and that is the story of Hamish Lutris!
“It’s really a roundabout route, with the addition of ingredients along the way, that’s led me to where I am today.” Hamish received his Master’s in History and became an adjunct professor for a community college, but what really helped shape his ability to teach and do public talks was the job he had during college. “I was an Interpretive Ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park – my job was to talk about the battle and cemetery where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address. With over 1.5 million visitors a year, not only was my job to provide accurate information, but to also entertain.”
He went on to work in some of America’s premier natural and historical sites, leading hiking, and historical programs in Alaska, and other far flung locales. He has also lectured extensively in the United States, Europe, and Canada, presenting programs on wide-ranging historical topics, including Native American history, the Civil War, Scientific History, Social and cultural history, the World Wars and the American West.
Hamish noted that the difference between being a college professor and speaking at National Parks is that people on vacation are there because they want to be. To speak intelligently about Gettysburg, you had to learn a lot in order to deliver just a simple talk. There is a lot of background information that you need to know to captivate your audience.
As all who have attended Hamish’s classes know, he talks about history in a way that makes it come alive with anecdotes. “When I read or hear things, certain parts stick with me – the sensational things. When I speak, I like to pin down examples that really relate to people on a human level. For example, George Washington may have been a great leader and a nice guy, but he also had a good sense of humor and apparently was a good dancer.“ Hamish’s goal while you are listening to him talk is to make you feel like they are a real person – which of course they were at one time.
When asked how he decided what topics to teach and speak on, Hamish really focuses on his audience. “Say I’m going to talk about Contemporary America, which is 1945 to present time. If I spoke at Noble, odds are a lot of people there will have a good memory of this time period, and if I mention the Atom bomb many will remember having to hide under desks. 18-year-olds can’t relate to that so, if I were teaching a class, I’d ask them questions like, should we have dropped that Atom bomb? You have to know your audience. I did a talk on the Battle of the Bulge once at a place like Noble, and a few of the men were actually in the battle. I always like to ask different types of questions to get different engagement and awaken excitement.
As a professor and public speaker, Hamish talks to all different age groups. The difference between teaching young vs. old? Experience. “Someone who is 80 has seen more than someone who is 20. I can say things to certain people and they just nod their understanding because they saw it all. A 20 year wouldn’t understand. There’s also a cultural background difference. I don’t have to remind the older folks to turn off cell phones. It’s funny because I’ll get older women in some of my college classes, and the younger students act different around them. They are more careful with how they speak or act. Social skills aren’t taught in school, they are taught at home, and a lot of college students are pretty open that they aren’t taught how to behave. So they learn from older people in the class, and they learn quickly.”
Hamish is often thought to have a photographic memory because he speaks so well and seems to remember so much, but his secret is really simple. Simple PowerPoint slides with an outline of his presentation and some important quotes.
So how does Hamish accumulate and add to his knowledge. It’s pretty simple. “I read. Most historians have about 4 to 5 books in progress at any given time. You typically pick your specialization, your island of knowledge, and you add to it by reading related topics and books. For example, if you specialize in the Civil War, you can talk about the military, and social history, and of course that now expands to science. Depending on your interests, your specialization grows by just adding to their island of knowledge and expanding it wider and wider.
Hamish does have a few ideas for some new courses in the works revolving around social history and the history of culture in the Americas which he plans to unveil at Noble Horizons this summer.
Hamish is also a woodworker, carver, engraver and guitarist. The 1971 Martin D135 pictured in the background of his presentations and recordings isn’t just for show. The 50-year-old guitar aides Hamish in playing folk, blues, and rock music. “I love playing Root’s music and open mic nights if I can find them. I love playing in a group where people are singing along and enjoying themselves.” Hamish only plays acoustic and is looking for someone who plays the washboard, a great folk instrument. Please keep your eyes on Noble’s summer concert series as you may find Hamish singing and strumming your next history lesson!