Six years ago, I came to AU to direct the public history program and Bob had just stepped into the role of department chair. He made it clear in the interview that building public history was a priority, and public history never had a better, more enthusiastic champion. Bob cared deeply about the public discussion of the past. Never sanctimonious – indeed, often irreverent — he believed that all historians had a stake in constructing the public square of history – that we should not simply remember the past but engage, question, and debate our current condition within the frameworks of history.
Of course he approached building a public history program with an energy and humanity that was uniquely Bob. There was a never-ending list of things to accomplish, build, create, manage, and achieve. I’d come into the office, and Bob would stop by to see how I was doing, acknowledge I was busy, and then ask if I could take on something else. In meetings with partners, he was in his element – gracious, smart, savvy — he promoted the program, our students, and my career. I never had better PR than when Bob was touting our successes. Over six short years, he became an indispensable mentor and collaborator — supporting my ideas, matching my enthusiasm for new projects, and overlooking my failures.
As a public historian I have been searching for the right words to memorialize Bob. Memorials, after all, are public history’s stock and trade. But I don’t feel like setting his life or contributions in stone. In the end, the best memorials are living ones, and perhaps the program he built can become just that. So, thanks, Bob. Thanks for everything. It never seemed like work.
Professor of History