For historian William Chafe, research and teaching are
"[Teaching] basically affects everything I do,"
Chafe said, the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History and a faculty member
Chafe is being honored with the
2011 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year
Award, which recognizes outstanding faculty
members for their dedication and contributions to the learning arts and to the
institution. The award was established in 1981
by the Division of Higher Education of the General Board of Higher
Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.
"It's terrific," says Chafe. "I won a teacher
of the year award in my first or second year at Duke, so winning the Scholar/Teacher Award now is a
wonderful way to conclude a career at Duke,"
"What is particularly striking about Bill,"
former Arts and Sciences dean Al Crumbliss wrote in his nomination letter, "is that he maintained this very high level of service (to the
discipline) while sustaining an equally uncompromising track record of
historical research and an unfailing capacity for effective teaching."
Chafe's leadership of the innovative DukeImmerse Program, a
four-course cluster established in 2010, provides a case in point.
"We are trying to compare the civil rights movement in
America and its origins, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and
its origins," he said. "I've just come back from South Africa with
our students, and I'm teaching a class on this whole notion of comparison. We
are also writing a book with colleagues at Wits [University] on this subject.
So there's always a link of some significance in what one does in research and
how one teaches and what one teaches about."
Chafe's influence at Duke extends beyond scholarship and the
classroom. In the nine years in which he
served as dean of Arts & Sciences, he oversaw development of Curriculum
2000, a new residential plan and helped increase minority faculty by 140
Although Chafe will retire
in August, he will remain at the university, teaching a class and a research seminar as part of DukeImmerse.
For the past four decades, Chafe, a
Boston native who earned his Ph.D. at Columbia, has studied the origins of 20th-century
social movements, principally the
women's movement and the civil
rights movement. He has been a prolific author of influential scholarly
works, including Civilities and Civil Rights and The Unfinished Journey: America Since World
Chafe said his broad range of scholarship
is unified by an underlying desire to get to the heart of events, rather than
just look at their consequences.
"We are in a very different position, and have been for
the last 40, 50 years, when we've been able to take a fresher look at the
multiplicity of sources, particularly doing interviews and talking to people who
were not famous but who nevertheless made famous things happen."
With advances in technology, Chafe believes that identifying
the root causes of history is within our grasp.
"We are blessed with that opportunity, and I think that
if we don't take advantage of it, we're not really doing a good job as scholars
Whether the subject is the role of women in the wake of the
suffrage movements, patterns of discrimination, or the history of sit-ins,
Chafe's work is imbued with a restless curiosity, a basic questioning of "what
it means to be human and how much freedom human beings are able to exercise to
make a difference."
As a post-graduate he considered joining the seminary, and
he said he knows that his students are grappling with big questions of their
"I think that's very much what teaching is all about,"
he says. "In South Africa we have a lot of experience with people who are
on the edge of major social justice reforms, so we spend a fair amount of time
visiting with people who have been religious members of the anti-apartheid
movement, including bishops and churches and people who are at this point, for
example, housing over a thousand Zimbabwean refugees in the central Methodist
church in Johannesburg.
"We actually go help teach the students, and then we
have a session with the minister of that church, and that kind of brings home
the question of the tension between religion and society."
"In the end, I may not have become a minister, but I'm
not sure that's true," he says with a laugh.