Matthew T. Herbst is a professor at the University of California San Diego, where he is director of the Making of the Modern World program (2007- present),  co-director of Classical Studies (since 2022), and co-director of Study Abroad (since 2020). A proponent of experiential learning, Dr. Herbst was an inaugural professor of UC San Diego’s Global Seminars in 2008 and has led eleven programs in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and North America.   He has offered other experiential programs in California, the American Southwest, and in Turkey, as well as 23 environmental humanities seminars in the deserts and mountains of California. He also collaborates with public agencies and community-based organizations for projects in San Diego and beyond.  Among his academic interests are environmental and digital humanities, cultures of the desert, world wisdom traditions, early Christianity, Byzantium, and disability history.

Hovering out to sea: Visiting USS Gabrielle Giffords

Active in campus service, Prof. Herbst is a faculty leadership mentor and serves on committees addressing disability (since 2010), undergraduate education (since 2015), international education (since 2020), undergraduate writing (since 2021), and remote instruction (2022). His previous service includes Public Service (chair, 2018-2020), Preparatory Education (chair, 2018-19), Educational Policy (chair, 2016-17), the Burke Lectureship on Religion and Society (chair, 2015-19), and the planning of UC San Diego’s eighth college (2020-2021).   He has received an assortment of awards for teaching and professional activity, including Outstanding Faculty (2009), Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching (2015), an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Award (2017), and a Changemaker Faculty Fellowship (2020-2022).


Dr. Herbst attended public education, from elementary school in New York to his B.A. at Binghamton University (as a first-generation college student), and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. To support student success, he collaborated to found the college-based First Year Experience & Transfer Year Experience courses, designed to facilitate successful transition to the university, and teaches these each year. Interested in fostering links between pre-collegiate and higher education, he tutors middle and high school students, serves as a proposal reviewer for NEH Seminars and Institutes for secondary education, and offers teacher trainings. Previously, he was a school board member, a director for NEH Summer Institutes for teachers, and a content expert for the CA Dept. of Education’s review of social studies curricula.   


On the personal side:    Dr. Herbst and siblings are his family’s first generation to attend college.  He is the grandson of an immigrant from South America, who married a sanitation worker from Queens, NY, who was himself the son of Irish immigrants. Prof. Herbst is the child of a Vietnam War-era veteran from East Harlem and a Queens native, who wedded as teens.  He is married to a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from the Philippines and worked in (and retired from) the US Navy and VA Hospital system, respectively.   Before pursuing an academic career, Prof. Herbst explored a variety of fields, including National Park Service, law enforcement and private investigation, and social services.   These days, when not teaching, he can be found kayaking in San Diego waters, meandering through mountains and deserts of Southern California, or walking about town with his dogs.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. tony sensoli says:

    I am glad “college boxer” made your bio. You were one of the best ever from the University of Michigan Boxing Club.

    1. ucsdherbst says:

      Dr. Tony! So good to hear from you. How are you and the family?
      Whatever I know of boxing — I learned from you. I hope that we can talk soon to catch up.

  2. Louis Cohen says:

    Thank you for your interesting talk about Istanbul today at the San Diego Museum of Art. I have a few follow-up questions:

    – Can we assume that the traces of Mohammed found by Mehmet II just outside Constantinople are bogus, or is there any archeological/historical evidence to suggest that the prophet was actually there? It reminds me of the stories in the book of Mormon about fantasy peoples of the early Americas and Jesus’ visit to North America.

    – Is modern Turkish ultimately derived from the turkic languages of Central Asia, and not the other way around?

    – By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was notorious for corruption; one bought a position in government service and paid a percentage of the graft up the ladder (not unlike the world of The Sopranos). Was it always like this, or when did it start to slide?

    BTW, “The Ionian Mission” by Patrick O’Brian is a modern historical novel set during the Napoleonic wars that deals with a (fictional) attempt by the British to find and support a reliable ally in the Ionian Sea. Part of the intrigue revolves around whether a local coup will create a fait accompli before the Sultan (referred to as the Sublime Porte) can issue a firman naming the new governor.

    The town of Marino, Italy has a festival every year to celebrate their boys coming home from the Battle of Lepanto. The fact that wine and roast pork sandwiches are served celebrating the defeat of the Muslim navy is probably a coincidence.

    1. ucsdherbst says:

      You are welcome. I enjoy that venue very much. A few comments to your questions:
      1. The relics that Mehmet found at Eyüp, just outside the walls of Constantinople, were not of Muhammad but of one of his companions, Ayyub al-Ansari who, according to tradition, died in the 7th century Arab siege of Constantinople.
      2. Yes, Turkish has its origins in Central Asia. The Turks were originally central Asian nomads which explains why Turkic languages are spoken from China (the language of the Uighurs) all the way to Europe (Turkey). These languages are related but not the same, like those in the Romance Language family (Spanish, Italian, Romanian, etc.).
      3. The Ottoman empire of the classical period (to 1600), which was the topic of my talk, was highly efficient, particularly in contrast to various large western kingdoms in the same period. A variety of troubles develop afterwards, however, though some had roots even in the classical period. I expect to present on some of this in a follow up talk in the fall.

  3. Julie Herbst says:

    UCSD Diversity Award recipient! Congratulations!

  4. Congratulations! I am in awe of you and family. Proud to know you! UCSD is amazing.

    1. ucsdherbst says:

      Thank you, Marie! I’m excited about our future projects!

  5. Patricia Lothrop says:

    Your contributions to ABC-CLIO’s The Byzantine Empire are admirably clear, informative, and thoughtfully organized. You wrote the bulk of Volume One, and I wish you had edited the set: I am convinced that you wouldn’t have permitted the weak writing so evident in the “Military” section (inter alia) to detract from the value of the project.

    1. ucsdherbst says:

      Thank you, Patricia.

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