[Note: Last month, I introduced “Retro-Posts,” an occasional series from this blog, which is now in its twelfth year. In that post, I treated two brief items, the current “About” page and what I called the “first post,” “Hello, World,” published on June 14, 2010. This time, I am “Retro-Posting” an essay from eight months later that I think does a better job of explaining the genesis of “Retired But Not Shy” than either (or both!) of those initial efforts. I hope you’ll enjoy, “Well, We’ve All Got to Start Somewhere, I Suppose. . . .]
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[Note: This was my first blog entry, created in June 2010, but for some reason (an error on my part, I’m sure) it was not actually “published” (as a post) but (evidently) was “uploaded” (as a “page”) instead, which, I eventually found out, was not exactly the same thing–I guess. (Have I mentioned that I was new to the blogging business in June 2010? Well, duh!) Anyway, I’m hoping this will clarify the (perhaps) mysterious origins of RBNS. I have now updated it to carry the story of “doing history outside the classroom” to the end of 2015.]
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In a galaxy far, far away, many years ago, the author of this blog got mugged by reality. It was the 1972-73 school year, and I was finishing my doctoral work, writing–and typing, by myself, on a portable electric typewriter purchased just for the purpose–my dissertation, in American History. As I did so, I was at the same time looking for an ivy-covered college or university to shelter me from the storm of “real life.”
But there were no colleges or universities out there interested in my services, so I went to “Plan B”: a job teaching History at the secondary level, but not in public schools, oh, no. I still remembered my first semester in undergraduate school, as a “History Education” major, when the head of the School of Education came to speak to us and to explain what our curriculum would be over the next four years. As I understood it, I would be studying History, sure, but not beyond the survey level; most of my upper level courses would be in “Education,” along with student teaching. And I thought: you’ve got to be kidding me! I’m going to spend the next four years preparing to teach History in high school by learning only about History on the survey level and devoting most of my time to courses in “Education,” whatever that is? I don’t think so!
As a result, I changed from the School of Education to the School of Arts and Sciences, and became just a plain “History” major. But what could I do with it? As it turned out, that really wasn’t an issue, because, in order to be sure of graduating in 1966, I had enrolled in the Advanced Army ROTC program, which also meant that I would enter the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant upon graduation for two years, during (as we now know in hindsight) the height of our adventure in Southeast Asia.
I did that, survived (which was easy, since I was one of only two new lieutenants [out of perhaps 28] in my advanced officer training course who did not go to Vietnam. Remember Vietnam? Oh, well, a topic for another time. . . .) Anyway, once I finally decided to look into “prep school” teaching, I was lucky enough to land a job at a prominent school on the other side of town from where I was in grad school. I took the job excitedly, but also with reservations (as I said at the time, I’m only going to be there “until something better comes along“). But nothing better came along, and I spent the next thirty-seven (that’s 37!) years at the same fine institution.
Fortunately, in my prep school job, I was able to continue doing all those things my grad school professors had taught me to do in a college post: review books for historical journals; write articles for professional publications; give the occasional public lecture or paper presentation; even turn my doctoral dissertation into a book, published in 1986; and, beginning around the time the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, use a three-summer sabbatical grant to begin research on my second book–the sequel to the first one. This volume would, I hoped, carry the theme of the first book at least thirty years further along. And so–yes, you’re reading this right–I spent the next fourteen years–summers only, of course, being the dedicated prep school teacher I was–researching and writing about the topic, before hanging up my whiteboard in 2010, the magnum opus still in embryo.
Another thing I owe to my school was the opportunity to do something my grad school professors had not prepared me for. During the last few years before I retired, I served as the editor of the history department newsletter. I enjoyed putting the publication together, with the help of the template supplied by Microsoft Publisher: soliciting contributions from departmental colleagues; writing some pieces myself; and publicizing other things that might be useful to the department, like new books, local events of interest to historians, even summer programs available in various exotic, if academic, locales. I knew I’d miss this newsletter work once I retired, and that awareness led me to explore the possibility of creating a blog. And the rest, as they say, is history. . . . or more precisely, “doing History after leaving the classroom,” otherwise known as “Retired But Not Shy.”
With “all the time in the world” to complete that second book once I’d retired, I worked steadily over the next five years, taking advantage of a lot of primary sources on the Web (mainly newspapers) and actually beginning to “write” the thing, though, believe it or not, I didn’t realize this at first! And, in the summer of 2015, the “big book,” as well as a collection of essays on Georgia history, were finally published.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: