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Laughter is the Best Teacher


Professor Dave Gallo teaching history.

How Humor and History Go Together in Dr. Gallo’s Classroom

When it comes to the study of history, why are so many students bored or uninterested? What would it take to change their minds?

These questions lie at the heart of what David Gallo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, hopes to impart in his teaching. “It’s a question I ask my students on the first day of class,” he said. To any students who claim an active dislike of the subject, Dr. Gallo says he accepts the challenge—then he gets to work on changing their minds.

Dr. Gallo fell in love with history—both the study and the teaching of it—when he was an adolescent. But he understands that not everyone feels the same way.

“Most people who say they hate history actually hate memorizing dates and places,” he said. Yet, by the end of each semester, he can count on at least one or two students telling him, “‘I never liked history before, but your class was so interesting.’ That’s what I live for.”

And now Professor Gallo has encapsulated his strategies for making history more interesting by writing a short chapter in Teach History with a Sense of Humor: Why (and How to) Be a Funnier and More Effective History Teacher and Laugh All the Way to Your Classroom.

“I wanted to share with readers how I started using humor to engage my students,” he explained. “I usually start the year with a dad joke and everyone groans—but I don’t mind looking ridiculous. Anything you can do to animate, rejuvenate, or make a class more interesting and relevant will benefit both you and your students.”

His chapter, “Going for Baroque in the Classroom,” describes his philosophy, along with a few tricks he uses when teaching 17th-century European history. Published last year by Curious Academic Publishing, the book offers professional development for teachers who want to impart their passion for history to a new generation of students.

“Humor has helped create my ‘brand’—many different strands woven together that work with my personality, interests, character, teaching style, and quirks (ask your students what yours are if you’re not sure…they are!)—which can take the class from resented requirement to a favorite course,” he continued.

Dr. Gallo, who directs the Mount’s FYE program—or First Year Experience—and who has also been voted Teacher of the Year (twice!) by Mount students, has been teaching history for more than three decades. His love for both the subject and the profession began around the same time. As a young boy, he watched a PBS program about 17th-century English General John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and came away “mesmerized” by the period. About teaching, he says, “It was like falling in love—I never wanted to do anything else.”

So, how does Professor Gallo make history come alive for his “challenge” students?

“History shines when it’s about people—when it delves into their stories, their families, their personalities, the events that both encourage and constrain their actions, and the circumstances of their daily lives.”

And as for the humor?

“Laughter relaxes people and allows them to open up to what you’re saying—humor opens a joyful door to a new world.”

About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment and leadership in the 21st century.