In the middle of an early American history lecture, Dr. George Yagi Jr. pulled out a heavily layered outfit of a white undershirt, a red coat with golden trim and a blue sash across the chest. This is his replica suit of what a British captain would have worn in colonial America during the revolutionary war – the current topic of the lecture. This is just one example of Yagi’s unique way of approaching teaching his students.
Yagi is a published author and a history professor at Delta College. Yagi’s life is heavily intertwined with history, both in his heritage and his professional life. He is the son of a second-generation Japanese-American soldier and descendant of Japanese and Spanish nobility. He is the author of The Struggle for North America 1754-1758 and writes articles as a contributor to several scholarly journals and publications.
Yagi’s fascination with history started when he was a child.
“I went to go visit Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, in Carmel, that was built in the 18th century. Once I saw that place when I was little, you know I was just glued to the California missions. I made my parents take me to half of the mission chain by the time I was 13,” he said.
Yagi also cites his own family story as his inspiration to pursue history.
“Well, I am descended from Emperor Nintoku. And so, the story is that he had a daughter, she married into another noble family, and when the grandchild was born, he gave that child the last name Yagi, and I am the direct descendant today,” he said. “We had our own army. I would have had over 500 samurai under my command.”
Keijiro Yagi, George’s grandfather, came to America in an attempt to earn money for his family in Japan. Though he never returned, he successfully started a ranch in Thornton, CA in 1908 where George would eventually be raised in.
Yagi started writing historical arguments while attending University of the Pacific at the age of 19 and finished his dissertation (later published as a book) for British Imperial History at the University of Exeter when he was 25.
As a writer, Yagi keeps an active twitter account with over 2,300 followers where he posts history facts and promotes his books.
“One day I’ll focus on Japan, one day the California missions, another maybe world war II.”
When it comes to teaching, Yagi emphasizes the practicality of arguments both in and out of history.
“My main goal is always to try to teach them skills that they could use outside the classroom. That’s why writing is so important: it’s a skill that doesn’t end with history,” he said. “Being able to look at something, pose a question, state the thesis and argue… I want them to have the ability to question everything.”
His approach to teaching is to have a discussion amongst students, rather than a traditional lecture.
“…I try to liven things up. You’ll never see the PowerPoint up. I try to make it interactive, so that’s why you see pictures, documents, clips.”
Yagi sharing his replica suit of a British captain is the perfect example of why he is a great asset to Delta. His passion and dedication to history as a discipline translates to a unique and interactive learning experience to students.