History professor shows off epic office decor

Published 11:30 pm Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Walking through the halls of the Longwood University Rotunda, a quick glance into Room 229 might make a passerby think they’ve stumbled upon a tiny gift shop, or perhaps a toy store or miniature museum.

The room is the office of History Professor David Coles. If you’re lucky, you might recognize his familiar face among the bobbleheads, toys and other collectibles taking up the majority of the room on his desk.

Coles’ office is filled wall-to-wall with knickknacks, figurines and souvenirs. One could spend hours taking note of the various items that are a part of his vast and colorful collection, from troll dolls to PEZ dispensers. There’s even a bobblehead of Longwood University President W. Taylor Reveley IV mixed in there somewhere.

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Coles, 63, received his PhD in 19th Century U.S. History from Florida State University. After learning of an opening at Longwood in 1999 in the history department, the professor moved to Farmville and has taught and lived here ever since.

Coles teaches classes on a variety of subjects from the Civil War and Reconstruction to U.S. diplomatic history. But when students stop by his office for the first time to discuss their work, they are often intimidated — not of the friendly, smiling professor, but of the hundreds of eyes staring back at them.

“They’ll say, ‘When I first came in to see you in the office, it looked like everything was staring at me, and I couldn’t concentrate,’” he laughed during a Monday, April 5 interview.

When asked about the origins of his odds and ends, Coles said he has always loved to travel, often asking to visit historical sites with his parents when he was a child. He is a self-proclaimed gift shop regular and has always enjoyed bringing back souvenirs.

“I was something of a collector when I was a kid,” he said, describing the matchbox cars and toy soldiers he admired as a child.

When Coles first came to Longwood, he admittedly tried to keep things orderly at first.

“When I first started, I only had a few things on my desk because I didn’t want to be a jerk when I first got here,” he joked.

But over the years he’s been teaching at Longwood, Coles’ office has slowly been filled to the brim with treasures and memories. His unique space has become somewhat of a landmark at the school.

The Room 229 collection consists of a variety of objects, many of which were gifted to Coles by current and former students over the years. Student gifts range from dozens of snow globes to personalized hot sauces. Other objects include model tanks, action figures from his children and plenty of books.

While there are those who enjoy a more minimalist approach to office space, perhaps including a past fire marshal or two, the clutter does not seem to bother Coles. If things do get too overwhelming, he does have a “Serenity Now!” button from the “Seinfeld” show to push.

Other notable items include old, wind-up tin toys, gag gifts and several Magic 8 Balls.

“Some of the students will come in before tests, and they’ll of course see what it tells them,” he said. “They’ll keep doing it until they get a good response.”

When asked about his future plans for the collection, Coles remarked that he knowingly does not have much space left for anything else. When his retirement comes, he will likely give away most of his assortment.

But for now, he’s right at home among Buzz Lightyear, George Washington and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.