Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Planes and Professors

The Gold Room at Harlaxton Manor is packed. Students and visitors alike are patiently waiting to attend another installment of the lecture series held in the building.

                Amid the soft chatter, Professor Edward Bujak stands calmly at the front. His black suit and white dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, make a fine representation of his personality: confident, professional and yet somehow easy-going.

                 The doors close and the audience becomes silent. Bujak describes the manor grounds as they were a hundred years ago, swarming with bi-planes and aspiring fighter pilots.

 Bujak is a British Studies professor at Harlaxton College who is all about history. As a man whose research interests lie in country houses, Harlaxton Manor house seems to be a perfect fit.

Bujak found himself at Harlaxton after teaching part-time at East Anglia University, the school where he earned his PhD. With no job options available at the time, he began searching outside of the mainstream for employment and stumbled upon an advertisement for Harlaxton.

“On the basis that it was interesting, and different to what I had planned on doing, I thought I would give it a go,” said Bujak. “Luckily, I got the job.”

Bujak is one of four British studies professors who lead lectures and conduct seminars. Along with British Studies, he also offers other classes ranging from Renaissance and Reformation Europe to British Politics Since 1945.  Currently, Bujak is teaching a class on Word War II.

An important quality for any teacher is a passion for the subject, which seems to be no problem for Bujak. He has always considered history “more of a hobby than a career.”

This hobby carries into the classroom and the enthusiastic atmosphere helps students to become excited about history as well.

 “He makes the class very energetic and easy to engage in,” said Jessica Toney, a junior in Bujak’s World War II class. “It’s a nice change of pace from professors that read information from PowerPoint slides.”

Bujak has no problem describing events in history with the intensity level of an action packed novel.

“He’s a man with boundless energy and is really someone who doesn’t put up a front.” said British Studies Professor Bianca Leggett.

The concept of learning between Americans and the British on the manor grounds didn’t begin with the college itself, however; it originated during World War I.

After discovering an aerial photograph of a bi-plane over Harlaxton, Bujak decided to focus on a history lying just outside of his window.

Curiosity behind the photo became the inspiration for Bujak to tell the tale of a different kind of classroom that existed near the manor.

The grounds at Harlaxton served as a training area for pilots who hailed from across the British Empire as well as American mechanics.

By digging deeper, Bujak uncovered numerous interesting details on the successes and failures of young men from across the globe learning to harness the power of a new weapon, the airplane.

“You find this one little piece, and then you keep digging and digging,” said Bujak, describing the photograph and research process. “And you end up with 65,000 words in a book.”

 Bujak’s book Reckless Fellows: The Gentleman of the Royal Flying Corps will be available in the fall of 2015

During Bujak’s installment of the Gold Room lecture series, he described the new pilots earning their wings while throwing in a brief Top Gun reference, deriving a laugh from the American students.

The combination of attentive eyes and laughter in the room, prove that Harlaxton’s century-old tradition of Brits and Yanks learning together is far from over.
-Patrick Henry

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