Jack Ridley: a humanist among engineers

Jack Ridley, who won many teaching awards during his career, describes the circumstances he faced as a new professor of history at UMR in 1969.

Audio transcript

Jack Ridley
Jack Ridley

Well I came very naïvely thinking that history was one of the core disciplines of any institution of higher education. I remember going through a reception line at the chancellor’s residence. Chancellor Merl Baker had a reception for the new faculty, lots of us, in all disciplines. And one of the fellows who greeted me as I went through the line, metallurgical engineer, as I recall, said “what area are you in, what’s your specialty?” And I said “European history.” And he looked kind of funny and said “Oh, you’re in one of the fringe areas.”

Oh my goodness.

And I said “What’s your area of specialty?” because this offended. And he said “metallurgical engineering.” Well, I wasn’t sure I had ever heard of metallurgical engineering at the time. But anyway, that was probably an omen that we were going to be outliers.

Did that attitude that you first encountered continue in your experience for, in the early years, anyway?

It did for a few years. We had almost no library resources, which are very important to historians. We were crammed into the old chemistry building for a couple of months, until the Old Chem Building burned. And then we moved into houses around the area. I think there were two or three houses that social sciences department.

So that burned in the fall semester of ’69?

Yeah, as I recalled it was October. And a new building was in the works, but wasn’t yet any . . . well, I think it was two years before that was ready.

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