Professor's TV show airs historical events

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MANSFIELD >> If you didn't know that a riot once broke out in Mansfield over the abolition of slavery or what triggered Europe's 30 Years War, you might want to take a "short" course with historian Paolo DiGregorio.

DiGregorio, an associate professor of history at Bridgewater State University, has been spinning out little known gems of American and world history since 2014 on the town's local cable access channel.

His award-winning series of programs, titled "History Shorts with the Artifactual Scholar," presents historical vignettes in bite-size installments lasting less than four minutes.

In one recent program, DiGregorio described the Mansfield riot that broke out in 1836 when a mob threatened and shouted down a well-known abolitionist who had came to drum up opposition to slavery.

In another installment, he talked about a violent conflict over religious freedom in 1618 Prague that sparked the Thirty Years War.

DiGregorio, who has worked as an archaeologist and a National Park Service ranger, as well as teaching, said it's not just famous battles, historical figures and places that stimulate his interest in history.

"It's a lot of things, really," said DiGregorio, who served as a park ranger at the John Adams house in Quincy and the Statue of Liberty in New York.

His interest in history was sparked as a young boy.

"I was always taking out books at the library about the Romans and the Greeks," he said.

The 43-year-old history professor so far has turned out 36 installments of History Shorts covering a wide variety of topics, and says he's never at a loss for new material.

"There's always something you didn't know," he said.

DiGregorio also speaks to community groups on a variety of history topics.

He said two themes throughout history particularly fascinate him.

While cataclysmic events might sometimes seem to be at the root of major turning points in history, like the firing on Fort Sumter and the Civil War, often they are the explosion that results from a long-simmering conflict or series of events.

The Mansfield riot was a symptom of that, he said.

Even before the American Revolution, colonists were split over the issue of slavery. A draft section of the Declaration of Independence condemning slavery was actually edited out as "too divisive," he said.

The history of the early to mid-19th century is a litany of debates, protests and compromises that sought to somehow settle the conflict between slaveholders and abolitionists. With the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, that finally became impossible.

The other theme is that certain galvanizing events, such as the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 that triggered World War I, can quickly propel events out of control— even to the point of causing the deaths of millions of people.

That was true in 1618, when a conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Prague led to two Catholic officials and their secretary being thrown out of a high window. They survived, but the event quickly became the stuff of legend, leading to sectarian war that convulsed Central Europe for the next 30 years.

History Shorts are telecast periodically on local cable Channel 8. But previous programs can be viewed by visiting DiGregorio's Facebook page titled "Artifactual Scholar."


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