History Department
History Department

Part II of the Come Back to Garrison celebration--free lectures, exhibits, book sale, and Dining with Historians!

Tue, February 26, 2008

The Liberal Arts Council had a greeting table setup outside the History Department’s main office with a staff of over 16 student volunteers. The Council also co-sponsored the breakfast and lunch snacks, while directing people to classrooms, different buildings and exhibits all over campus all day.

“There was a palpable sense of enthusiasm in the halls on Friday as we were inundated with alumni and students eager to hear what the faculty had to say and see what they had to show,” said History Prof. Joan Neuberger, the event’s program coordinator. “The turn-out at all the lectures and events was confirmation that we, as a department, do indeed have something special to celebrate.”

Alumni came back from all parts of the state: San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Corpus Christi, etc. One professor had one of his very first students from 1971 come back to hear him lecture again. There were many alumni who had not been back for 20-30 years and were as excited as freshman to be back in Garrison after such a long absence, listening to historians present classic topics in light of new research.

A few topics of the many lectures included:

  • “The Secret Lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt”
  • “The Evil Eye: What Muslims, Christians, and Jews All Feared and Why”
  • “Buying Freedom from Slavery: An African-American Family Saga, 1777-1857”
  • “Monastic Miracles and Medieval Doubt: Religious Uncertainty in the Twelfth Century”
  • “The Wizard of Oz: A Parable of Populism”
  • “Rewriting the Vietnam War: New Evidence form the Johnson Library”
  • “Jesus at the Movies, The silent Era”
  • “Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Woodward and Bernstein”

One young man said he had just finished his Master’s in history from New York State. He was visiting friends in Austin when he saw the Come Back to Garrison! banners and decided to check it out. He is now considering applying to the graduate program here.

Follett’s Intellectual Property Bookstore also setup a table with recent faculty publications since 2000. And with their generous 20% discount, book sales were swift.

The event culminated with the Dining with Historians dinner at the Texas Exes Alumni Center. Faculty, alumni, students, and members of the UT administration gathered to wine and dine at the Frank Denius Concourse. Beneath a 30-foot-long Longhorn horns sculpture and tables topped with colorful roses, History Department Chair Alan Tully warmly thanked the faculty, the past Chairs, and especially Professor Joan Neuberger for organizing the all the events.

Associate Chair and Distinguished Teaching Professor George Forgie gave the keynote address. He was introduced by one of his former students, alumnus Isaac Heller. Heller described himself as just an average student who had earned no distinctive honors and who now teaches English in China. Yet Heller genuinely thanked Professor Forgie for having kindly mentored him and encouraged him to succeed, for having inspired confidence, and for going beyond the duty to be a great teacher but to also be "a great person." After a round of applause, Professor Forgie addressed the audience.

He outlined the history of Garrison Hall, named after George Pierce Garrison, who taught at Austin from 1884 to 1910 and was the department’s first Chair. In earlier years, Garrison Hall had not only housed the Department of History, but also Government, Psychology, Philosophy and American Studies. Now it is the home of History alone, though many other departments do hold classes there too, as Forgie put it, "there is more than History to Garrison, and more than Garrison to History."

Forgie highlighted some of the crown jewels of the department, such as the Normandy Scholar Program on World War II, headed by Professors David Crew, Michael Stoff and Charters Wynn. Forgie also shared some of the endearing oddities of Garrison Hall. The old sign for the non-existent Center for the Study of Human Resources that has survived. And the old lecture auditorium formerly called GAR 1 is now called GAR 0.102.

Forgie told a story about one of his past students, who took a make-up exam in the old Graduate Student lounge and afterwards reported that it had been difficult for her for two reasons: One, that she was not prepared for some of the material in the exam, and Two, that there was a dead graduate student in the room. And indeed there was. Hence the student who took the make-up exam asked that her grade be raised, but her appeal was denied.

And to illustrate some of the personalities that have passed through Garrison’s halls, there was the open letter to the University President Benedict, from renowned Professor Walter Prescott Webb. He complained that the hallways in Garrison were too wide and a waste of space, they're still wide, and that one of the bathrooms was way too large. The latter plea was heard in 2006 when that bathroom was demolished.

Forgie commented that those wide hallways where students used to loiter and smoke are now where students talk on cell phones and send text messages. He added that owing to the growth of the faculty, there is now less square footage per historian than previously.

"Historians tend to be lone voyagers. Our professional activity in a discipline undergoing profound change can be isolated and isolating. I think one of the reasons we are so happy to return to Garrison is that the 'history building' represents and provides stability, continuity, and community to people whose professional lives often conspire to deny them these things," Forgie explained.

Neuberger later sent an e-mail to everyone in the department thanking them for their assistance in making the event so successful. She praised Forgie for his talk and how he so aptly “celebrated everything we do as historians, as scholars, teachers, readers and writers, wanderers in the halls of Garrison--as a community. And he did so with his incomparable sense of humor and impressive sense of the moment. I am sure I am not alone when I say that he made me feel proud to be a historian and lucky to be a member of this particular history department.”

Related Links:
Come Back to Garrison Reception news story
Texas Exes
Follett’s Intellectual Property Bookstore

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