Arthur Power Dudden, 1921-2009

I’m sorry to learn that my first college History professor, Arthur Dudden, died nearly a year ago on October 14, 2009.  AHA’s Perspectives has a very nice obituary this month by Barbara Bennett Peterson, University of Hawai’i, emerita.  From her obituary:

Arthur Power Dudden, 1921–2009, was the national founding president of the Fulbright Association in 1976, Fulbright executive director 1980–84, and a respected professor of history and American studies at Bryn Mawr College. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 26, 1921, to Arthur Clifford and Kathleen (Bray) Dudden. He grew up in Detroit, graduated from Wayne State University with a BA in 1942, and served in World War II in the Mediterranean with the U.S. Navy. Following his discharge in 1945, he attended the University of Michigan and obtained a MA in 1947 and a PhD in history in 1950. Thus credentialed, he accepted a teaching position at the City College of New York for the summer and a full-time faculty position at Bryn Mawr in 1950. . . At Bryn Mawr he was the Fairbank Professor of Humanities 1989–92, the Katharine E. McBride Professor of History 1992–95 and 1998–99.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

He was chosen a Senior Fulbright Scholar to Denmark in 1959–60 and to western Europe in 1992. He was the president of the Fellows in American Studies 1960–61. Dudden was treasurer in 1968 and then executive director of the American Studies Association (ASA) 1969–72, enlarging this organization to attract more minority and women scholars. He led the first national ASA convention in Washington, D.C., in 1971 and organized five worldwide ASA conferences during the bicentennial. In 1991 he was honored with the national Bode-Pearson Award for splendid lifetime achievement in service to the field of American studies.

Peterson’s obit doesn’t say when he died, but Bryn Mawr’s website says it was last October 14.  I’m sorry not to have learned about it until now.  I think of him especially at this time of the year, and of his gentle manner and seemingly limitless patience with a rather quiet (if not quite sullen) discussion section of Western Civ. he ran twice a week in the fall semester of my Freshman year.  He was already in his mid-60s when I met him.  I was one of the few “Chatty Cathys” in the class, and I still remember the moment Professor Dudden took notice of me as a serious student of history.  In that warm, dusty old room in Goodhart Hall, I answered a question he put out to the class about the Carolingian Empire and rather seemed to like what I said–I remember how he fiddled with the volume of his old-fashioned hearing aid, with its wires attached to a little transistor in his shirt pocket.  He seemed to take me seriously, so I took myself seriously.  I’m sure that moment is what turned me into a historian.

We got to know each other a little bit.  I told him about my interest in either journalism or the law, and he encouraged me to submit book reviews to the Philadelphia Inquirer–as a college Freshman!  (I never did that, but I was impressed by his confidence.)  He let me write a research paper in lieu of the final exam for Western Civ–about poor little St. William of Norwich.  I didn’t know if I would major in History or English, but because I got an “A” on my paper and an A in Western Civ and an A- in my English Lit course, I decided to major in History.  The last time I saw him was in 1996, at a retirement party in honor of my advisor, Richard S. Dunn, at the University of Pennsylvania.  He had changed very little over the previous decade, and (amazingly enough) remembered me quite well and seemed pleased to hear about my professional progress.  I really enjoyed our chance meeting.

I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of stories like mine in the memories of former students and colleagues from a career that spanned more than fifty years.  Thanks, Professor Dudden.  You lived a great life.

0 thoughts on “Arthur Power Dudden, 1921-2009

  1. Enquiring minds want to know: what _does_ Historiann think about the Carolingians? And Historian was a “Chatty Cathy”? I guess the doll thing comes to her honestly! But seriously, it’s a delight to be reminded that those who teach freshmen can make a real difference for students sometimes, though it’s always difficult to see such difference-makers leave us. Condolences, Historiann.


  2. Tom–that’s exactly the point I was making. Thanks for stating it more succinctly. We never really know who’s out there in our freshman- and sophomore-level courses. It behooves us to listen and take seriously the students who take their work in our courses seriously.

    I believe my point about the Carolingian Empire was that “empire” was rather an anachronistic name for what was only a loosely-knit series of alliances. (And that’s about all I know about the Carolingians to this day! And it may not even be correct, for all I know.)

    Had I decided to study Latin instead of Hebrew and French, I might have become a European medievalist. I might just yet in retirement. . .


  3. Empires are often only loosely-knit alliances between central authorities and local elites who maintain a great deal of autonomy and control over their areas, but see enough benefit in the united empire to respect the rulers and send on a share of taxes.


  4. And that also encapsulates the difference between the SLAC and the big college experience. As a freshman at Swat, my professors took me very seriously and thus I took myself seriously as a student. When I got to grad school, I saw so many TAs (and for that matter professors) who saw undergraduates as impediments to their professional lives. The one thing my students tell me is that they appreciate that I take them seriously. So thank you Jerry Wood, RIP many years now, for both taking me seriously and for kicking my ass on that first midterm in college. And thank you to Historiann and the professors everywhere who treat my HS students like budding scholars and people not simply consumers or impediments.


  5. I don’t know that I live up to that, Western Dave, but I certainly look for the sparkle in the eyes of those students who are doing the reading and are participating in the class discussions. I do think you’re right that moments like that are much liklier to happen in the SLAC environment, when students can take more than 1 or 2 seminars or smaller classes. (I think back on my college years, and I spent more time in seminars than I did in regular lecture classes.)

    And thanks, Brian. I figured that my comment was pretty out of date by now!


  6. Historiann,
    The way you write about your students, I know you are looking to make connections with them. If they don’t take you up on it, that’s their problem. You’re not in a tri-college situation, but you do what you can. That’s all anyone can ask.


  7. Prof. Dudden was a mid-semester substitute instructor in a graduate course I took at BFU, when the about-to-go-emeritus professor, who had already been a president of the AHA, became seriously ill my (second?) year in graduate school. This was some years before he met Historiann. I don’t remember the hearing aid part but he seemed older then than the dates given above would suggest, but then, everyone seemed old to me then. Years later I got to substitute-teach a seminar in the same room–considerably mahoganized by that time with alumni donations–when the instructor of record became suddenly and seriously ill. It seemed both eerie and exhilarating at the time, the latter because the students were so much smarter than I remember having been at the same stage. Thanks for the memory tweak.

    Historiann as an investigative journalist or a hard-hitting litigator. Hadn’t imagined that before now. I’m glad that history won out in the end, though.


  8. Well, at least I didn’t go into journalism! What a nightmare.

    And, I should have included a h/t to you Indyanna, for putting me onto the obit above. I wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t told me, so I apologize for the lapse.


  9. Pingback: Women’s education, part II : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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