Dr. Bertram Wyatt-Brown
UF Department of History
2002-2003 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
During my nineteen years at the University of Florida as the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History, I have been most fortunate in helping to develop one of the region’s leading graduate programs in Southern history. When I arrived in 1983, the department had not developed a graduate program in Southern history. It took nearly seven years to attract to the campus highly qualified undergraduates from solid academic institutions. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, we began to compete for students with other such regional centers as UNC, Georgia, and South Carolina. By the mid-90s, the department as whole leapt from anonymity to place 52nd among History programs around the country. By 2001 we had reached the rank of 36th. If polling were done now, it might place us in the 20s. History stands second only to Chemistry (32nd) by US News and World Report polling of national standings in graduate education.
A major factor has been the Milbauer Endowment. The revenues from it have provided the program with a steady and generous source for wholly graduate student purposes. Students have benefitted from full and multi-year scholarships and tuition grants, supplemental stipends for first-year recruitment, research travel funds, and funds to attend special conferences, and regional and national conventions where many have made their debuts as professional speakers. For instance, Milbauer funded some eighteen current students to attend the Southern Historical Association annual meeting in New Orleans last November, the year of my presidency. Morale could scarcely have been higher. They were stimulated by seeing and meeting with leaders in the field. Milbauer has aided graduate students in fields besides southern history, too. The Department’s products have produced a total of 61 books since 1990.
Teaching excellent students has made the task of training them the most rewarding aspect of the Milbauer Chair in three respects. Following the style of C. Vann Woodward, my own supervisor at Johns Hopkins, I insist that graduate students must find their own areas of specialization and dissertation topics without authoritative interference. Of course, I make suggestions about possible topics, but the choice must always be the student’s. In addition, it is wise to create a positive rather than a censorious atmosphere. A mentor and student should have a rapport that is neither intimate nor intimidating. Students should not be afraid of making errors but learn to be bolder and more innovative than they thought they could. A major goal ought to be the encouragement of self-confidence rather than the condemnation of mistakes, that is, if the will to improve and to mature is alive. To obtain full participation in seminars I meet with a few of the quiet ones in pre-seminar sessions. This tactic encourages the less experienced seminarian to enter the arena in class. After all, they will have to address students themselves one day. With regard to qualifying exams, my view is to give the students questions about which they have some expertise. I like to see what they can do with what they do know and how broad that knowledge is. As soon as possible, I urge students to submit articles and reviews to journals and present papers at local, regional, even national conferences. They need to write constantly to become fluent, professional writers. The dissertation is by far the best instrument for lighting creative sparks. Active public speaking and writing enhances opportunities for jobs. Publishing seminar papers and book reviews makes candidates attractive to search committees. Needless to say, the relationship of teacher and student continues beyond the acquisition of the degree. Perhaps I vex my alumni by asking when the dissertation will appear as a book, when the second book will come out. To that end I encourage and promote pre- and also post-doctoral applications for grants, and the aspirants have enjoyed considerable success, especially in the field of Southern religious history. All these forms of cheer-leading, so to speak, seem to work — thanks to the professional dedication and high intellectual qualities of our students. Attention to the post-doctoral alumni also leads them to send us their best history undergraduates.
Finally, it strikes me that example is a major means of inculcating in students the proper spirit for future professional advancement. Since 1994, for instance, I have published four books (the latest appeared this October). In that period I have served as president of these scholarly organizations: Society for the History of the Early American Republic (1993); the St. George Tucker Society (1999-2000), and the Southern Historical Association (2000-01). In 1993, I gave the Lamar Lectures at Mercer, in 1995 the Franklin-Littleton Lectures at Auburn; and in 1996 the Walter L. Fleming Lectures at Louisiana State University; along with speaking engagements or endowed lectureships at Yale University, Central Washington State, University of Nebraska, California State at Chico, University of Virginia, and numerous other institutions. Last spring term, I served as the Douglas Southall Freeman Professor at the University of Richmond and organized a Civil War conference with 146 participants, some of whom were University of Florida faculty members and students. Since 1994 I have also written 25 scholarly articles and other materials (out of a total of 78 in the whole career) and 34 book reviews (out of 103). Since 1990, there have appeared 14 essay reviews in such publications as the Washington Post, London Review of Books, Wilson Quarterly, and the New York Review of Books, the latest of which appeared in late October. The total number of speeches presented at scholarly meetings and lectureships is 80 over the last eight years. I hope such activity, including editorship of the Southern Biography Series for LSU Press from 1995 onward, sets a professional standard and inspiration before the students. I have appeared on TV: Channel 4, London; Discovery; A&E; and PBS, along with radio interviews.
I have served on 110 graduate PhD and M.A. committees, chaired (and is chairing) 24 PhD committees, co-chaired two, served as a member on another 44 (29 in History, 11 in English, three in Communications, and one in Linguistics), chaired 16 M.A. committees, and served as a member of 22 M.A. committees (all in History). PhD students once under my direction have established a gratifying publication record. Three of them produced handsome, well-received studies with Oxford University Press. Another former doctoral student won the Best Book in Florida History award for his perceptive study of the Everglades; it was published by the University of Florida Press. Others have published with the University of Illinois Press; the University of North Carolina Press. One former student has his revised dissertation in a prestigious Native American series with the University of Nebraska Press. Another anticipates that his manuscript will appear with the University of Notre Dame Press. Routledge has produced an Historical Atlas by another PhD The total number of refereed articles by these former students comes to 57. Most of them have won coveted teaching awards. Nearly all have given regional and national conference and convention presentations before and after earning the doctoral degree.
None of the PhD alumni is without respectable positions at institutions of higher learning, community colleges, archives, libraries, public history councils, and historical societies. I name some locations: Indiana University, Terre Haute; Georgia Historical Society; National Archives; John Carroll University; University of Texas, Arlington; University of Washington; Virginia State Library, Richmond; Santa Fe Community College; Central Florida Community College; American Association of University Professors; Virginia Humanities Council; California State University at Los Angeles; University of North Florida; University of South Florida; Lincoln Legal Papers; Rhodes College; and Kansas State University.
It is my earnest hope that the department will continue its present course of excellence in the promotion of graduate history education, building on the record set in the last twenty years.