Department of History

The department of history received a $6.6 million donation Tuesday to increase graduate student recruitment on behalf of UT alumnus Gardner Marston.

Marston, a 1953 UT graduate, died in 2011. Marston donated $250,000 for the Gardner F. Marston Endowed History Scholarship Fund, which was established in 1998 for the College of Liberal Arts.

Marilyn Lehman, the history department’s graduate program administrator, said the gift will fund fellowships for students, as most student support comes from teaching assistant positions.

“It allows student to go off and do research, which is the kind of thing you can’t do when you’re [a teaching assistant],” Lehman said.

Jackie Jones, professor and graduate chair in the Department of History, said in a statement the gift would help with recruitment.

“This generous gift will enhance the ability of the history graduate program to recruit outstanding students and to maintain the overall excellence of our program,” Jones said.

Marston served in the U.S. Army during World War II and managed family properties in the California area for most of his life, according to his obituary in the San Diego Community News Group.

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the college has received more than $30 million in planned gifts in the past five years.

“We are grateful for the generosity and foresight of people like Gardner Marston, who valued their education at the University and wanted to give back so that others might enjoy the same benefits of higher education,” Diehl said in the department’s statement.

The National Association of Scholars recently made headlines when it published a critique of the University’s Department of History

In a paper titled “Recasting History” the group criticized the department for over-emphasizing themes of class, race and gender. And though this may be the organization’s first interaction with the University’s history department, it is not the organization’s first mention in the history of the University. 

The organization, which according to its website is a coalition of academics concerned with issues such as the politicization of the classroom, launched its first public campaign against a UT department’s curriculum in the 1990s.

In spring 1989, a committee of English professors began to revise the department’s curriculum, focusing on English 306, a mandatory freshman composition course.

The following spring, the committee presented a packet of course materials to the English department. One of the books was called “Racism and Sexism” by Paula Rothenberg, a collection of articles and personal narratives written by a diverse group of authors. When brought before the English department, the proposal received a majority — but not a unanimous — vote for approval. 

At this point, the National Association of Scholars got involved. In the summer and fall of 1990, the organization used tactics similar to those used in its recent campaign against the history curriculum. Then and now, the group has used the power of the media and relied in large part on publicly-released syllabi.

“As far as we were concerned, the book was exhibit A of too much politics in the classroom,” Glenn Ricketts, the organization’s public affairs director, said. “We certainly sought to publicize it.”

The push resulted in national attention. The revisions were the subject of several nationally syndicated columns and were called “political indoctrination” by an opinion writer for The Washington Post. 

In July, the organization paid for an ad in The Daily Texan, titled “A Statement of Academic Concern.” The ad stated that the proposed curriculum “[distorted] the fundamental purpose of a composition class.” Fifty-six professors signed the statement, including 16 professors who teach at the University today. Though the organization paid for the advertisement, its name did not appear anywhere on the ad. It is unclear if the signatories were aware of the organization’s role in publishing the advertisement.

“The NAS championed the resistance to some of the more radical trends,” Alan Gribben, a former UT English professor and prominent critic of the revised curriculum, said. “They had been looking for issues like this to support.”

The organization succeeded in defeating the proposed revisions to the English course. Under intense media criticism, the University’s administration did not give the English department permission to test its revised curriculum on a smaller scale. Every member of the committee originally charged with revising the curriculum resigned in protest.

In the 20 years since the debate over the E306 course, the organization has broadened its mission and goals. In the past month, it published blog posts criticizing the new director of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lamenting the damage caused by “diversity mania” at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

The NAS has also kept an eye on Texas: In the ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case Fisher v. Texas, which examines the role of race in college admissions, the group filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiff. The president of the Texan Association of Scholars is philosophy professor Robert Koons. The former president of the Texas affiliate, Joseph Horn, who founded the Liberal Arts Honors program, served as advisor to UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas and led the charge to defund Tejas, a campus Chicano newspaper. Lino Graglia, a law school professor who attracted controversy in December with his statements that African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely to be academically competent than white students, is a member as well.

Koons said the organization has the same concerns now that it did in 1990.

“It’s not that the NAS is opposed to the study of race, gender and class issues,” Koons said. “It’s just not to the exclusion of learning writing, and not to the exclusion of getting a general introduction to American history.”

Alan Friedman, a UT English professor who has worked at the University since 1964, said the organization’s continued reliance on syllabi leads to an incomplete picture.

“You cannot tell, it seems to me, what faculty are doing in classrooms merely by looking at the texts they require their students to read or by looking at a syllabus,” Friedman said. “You can find out what materials they’re using, but not how they’re using it, how they’re teaching it or what angle they’re taking on it. The NAS does merely that — they are not an academically respectable organization.”

Jeremi Suri, author of "Liberty's Surest Guardian" and distinguished professor in global leadership, history, and public policy, looks to America's history and various conflicts as a mechanism of nation building.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

Renowned UT professor Jeremi Suri released a book Tuesday focusing on the principles of successful nation-building based on research that delves into U.S. history.

Suri joined the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the Department of History as a professor this fall. His book was titled “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama.”

“The book is an effort to understand how Americans have sought to change the world, and one of my points is that we have sought to change the world by changing ourselves,” Suri said.

He said that his book includes an analysis of several factors that are involved in successful nation-building: partners, process, problem-solving, purpose and people.

“After examining history, [I found that] these are the five elements that contribute to more success rather than more failure, though they do not guarantee [success],” Suri said.

Suri said his analysis involved a consideration of crucial historical examples of nation-building by the United States, beginning with Reconstruction after the Civil War and American involvement in the Philippines, Germany, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“[The book] is structured based on specific historical cases, and it follows a chronological organization. One of the points I make is that each experience builds on the last,” Suri said.

Suri said that a great amount of research was involved in the development of “Liberty’s Surest Guardian.”

“The research involved a lot of reading about different conflicts and experiences and then doing a lot of archival work,” Suri said.

Suri also spoke about the impact he hopes the book will have.

“I really want young people to take seriously the fact that they can change the world and that they need to change the world,” he said.

He mentioned that his work as a professor was influential to his research and writing and that the book was greatly impacted by his experiences with students.

“Part of my book is about how Americans have changed the world — not always for the better,” Suri said. “Especially now, young people need to continue doing that.”

William Inboden, assistant professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that he believes Suri’s book will be instrumental in filling a gap in public policy.

“[In public policy issues,] policymakers’ first question is often ‘what can history tell us about this subject?’ All too often, there are not enough resources.” Inboden said.

Frank Gavin, associate professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that Suri’s presence at UT will help to focus on valuable issues at the University.

“Suri’s work will be influential in the way that it concentrates on what has worked in the past in order to connect history to contemporary policy issues,” Gavin said.