Pro Bene Meritis 2012
The Pro Bene Meritis Award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts. It is given each spring to alumni, faculty and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, who have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits, or who have participated in service related to the college.
Brands is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History and is a bestselling author of American history and politics. “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” and “Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
FULL NAME: Henry William Brands
Friends call me Bill. I publish as H.W. Brands.
Ph.D., History ’85
HOMETOWN: Portland, Oregon
INTERTWINING WRITING AND TEACHING: I have been teaching American history for 30 years. That teaching has prepared me to write every book I’ve written. For example, I had been lecturing about Ulysses Grant (the subject of my most recent book) for a long time before I sat down to write. So I knew the Grant story. I knew the context and the issues. An author who didn’t teach would have to take time to learn all that. I had learned it in the natural course of teaching. Conversely, once I started writing about Grant, he cropped up in my lectures more and more often. He provided illustrations and examples of general principles. I tried out on students my ideas about Grant. I tested titles and approaches. Most important, my writing keeps history fresh for me. And if it’s fresh for me, I have a chance to make it fresh for my students.
SOMETHING IN COMMON: I introduce students to the fact that people in the past dealt with the same kinds of questions, doubts and challenges they face. In class I bounce back and forth between the past and the present, between the timely and the eternal. Young people want to know where they fit in the grand scheme of things; history helps them figure it out.
PEAKING INTEREST IN THE PRESIDENCY: There is always interest in the presidency. But it peaks during election seasons, which makes this a great time to teach my course on the history of the American presidency. Students will see that issues we’re dealing with today have been around before.
UP NEXT: My next big project is a biography of Ronald Reagan.
HAIKUS: I produce haikus about historical figures and events daily. Follow me on Twitter at @hwbrands.
DREAM JOB: I’d figure out a way to sneak back into my current occupation. I love to teach, and I love to write. I consider myself extremely fortunate.