Forty-five years ago this year, NIU’s Department of History conferred its first doctoral degree.
Professor Anne Hanley, director of graduate studies, has led an effort by the department to mark the special occasion.
The department has invited its Ph.D. alumni to campus for events to commemorate the anniversary, including attending the Graduate School commencement ceremony at which the newest Ph.D. will be hooded and gathering for a reunion lunch for alumni, faculty and current Ph.D. students.
The history department also has established an impressive 45th anniversary website dedicated to its history of turning out scholars, most of whom went on to teach at universities nationwide. The site includes photos, a listing of all 121 Ph.D. recipients and alumni recollections of their NIU days.
NIU Today caught up with Hanley to ask her more about the commemoration.
NIU Today: Where did the idea for this commemoration come from?
Hanley: “Several threads came together last summer to create this idea. First, we periodically receive e-mails from alums telling us of promotions, moves and retirements, which we collect for our files. These usually make reference to a fond memory of a favorite professor. Second, I received an e-mail from one of our earliest Ph.D.s, Warren Billings, sending us the obituary of his Ph.D. adviser and one of the first professors in our Ph.D. program, Emory Evans. The obituary recounted the early history of the Ph.D. program. The third thread came last summer when updating and consolidating information on our Ph.D. graduates. I noticed that the first Ph.D. in history was conferred in 1966 and realized that 2011 marked the 45th anniversary of that event. All of these together formed the idea of commemorating this milestone. Early in the fall term I approached the department chair, Beatrix Hoffman, and Brad Bond, dean of the Graduate School, with the idea and received their full support.”
NIU Today: Why the 45th anniversary?
Hanley: “The simplest answer is that once the idea formed in my mind I did not want to wait five years. Most of our early Ph.D.s are at or beyond retirement age. I wanted to reach out to them to gather their recollections and celebrate their careers right away. I also wanted to hold the commemoration reunion while they were still willing and able to travel. We are bringing two of our earliest alumni to campus to meet our faculty and Ph.D. students. Joseph McFadden, our second Ph.D., will attend the graduate commencement ceremony and a reunion lunch in May. Warren Billings, our third Ph.D., will come to campus in the fall term.”
NIU Today: Who was the first Ph.D.?
Hanley: “The first Ph.D. conferred by history—who was also the first Ph.D. conferred by the university [the first doctorate was in education]—was Charles William Olson. We searched for him via the Internet, contacted former faculty members and wrote to peers in his cohort at NIU, but did not find him. I am hopeful that he will hear about the commemoration and get in touch.”
NIU Today: How has the response been?
Hanley: “Wonderful. We have received written recollections and photos from many of our alumni, which we posted to the commemoration web page. Judy Hendrickson, the graduate program secretary who designed the commemoration page, scanned news stories and photos from department scrapbooks to post. The web page also has a list of all of our past Ph.D.s and biographies of many of our current Ph.D. students for our alumni to read. I have received emails from many alumni, students and faculty alike, saying they have enjoyed looking back and thinking about their time at NIU. We are going to gather all of this commemorative material into a digital album on CD that we will send to our alumni at the close of the year.”
NIU Today: What have you learned from planning this celebration?
Hanley: “There are two statistics that really stand out for me. The first is that 70 percent of our alumni hold or held faculty and administrative positions at institutions of higher education. That figure includes alumni for whom we have no career data, so it may be higher. The second is that our alumni have held positions at more than one hundred institutions of higher education in 25 states and the District of Colombia, and in seven countries abroad.”
NIU Today: What about the alumni that did not end up in a college or university?
Hanley: “Many of our alumni have had distinguished careers in think tanks, government agencies and historical archives and museums. These include the Asia Foundation, the Smithsonian, National Security Archive, National Education Association, several state archives and museums, with the Thomas Jefferson Papers project at Princeton University and with the papers of the Rockefeller Estate, and Myanmar Historical Commission. Others pursued careers in public administration, business, and secondary education.”