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  January 29, 2001

Scholarship and Teaching
Take Stave Around the World

In the early 1960s, when Bruce M. Stave was pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas was articulating his views on Stave's favorite subject: "History is not a divine force," said Fulbright. "It is the instrument of those who make it."

Stave must have been listening.

A member of the history faculty since 1970 and director of the University's Center for Oral History since 1981, Stave has carved out an impressive history of his own that has included three Fulbright awards. He was honored last year as a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor.

Catalyst for a Career
He credits a summer college job as a pollster with Samuel Lubell, a nationally recognized pollster, journalist and author of books on American politics, as the catalyst for his career.

"As a consequence of working for Sam, I interviewed people about Fords and Chevrolets and then traveled around the country polling about politics," recalls Stave, who has authored or edited 10 books. He conducted political polling in the 1958 congressional election and the 1960 presidential election. Both whetted his appetite for interviewing and history.

Stave's longstanding interest in oral history has included interviewing American participants in the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, a topic on which he co-authored a book, Witnesses to Nuremberg.

When a two-part drama on the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials aired on the TNT Network last summer, the character portrayed in the film as Capt. Dan Kiley, the architect who renovated the courtroom in Nuremberg for the trials, was of special interest to Stave: he had interviewed the Army captain for his book.

According to Stave, Capt. Kiley was given secret orders to find and renovate a location for the trials. Eventually, the U.S. Justice Department selected Nuremberg as the site and Kiley went to work renovating the war-ravaged Palace of Justice.

"Unified, orderly and dignified," Kiley is quoted as saying in Stave's book. "That's what the courtroom should be and it should reflect the Scales of Justice." Kiley went on to become an internationally renowned landscape architect.

Asked about his favorite oral history project, Stave says it's like asking a parent to name a favorite child: "It's so hard to choose one." But when pressed, he names From the Old Country: An Oral History of European Migration to America, first published in 1994 and issued in paperback last year.

The book is based on Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviews conducted at the end of the Great Depression and on oral histories done 25 years ago in Connecticut with people from several ethnic groups, in particular the Irish, Italians, Jews and Poles. The interviewees discussed their ethnicity as it related to the American social and political system as well as to economic and cultural life.

The subject is close to his heart. "I use this book with my students because it provides a good sense of the every day life of immigrants," says Stave, whose great grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe in the late 19th century.

Stave's most recent undertaking involves assisting South Africa's African National Congress in conducting its own oral history of the party's struggle against apartheid.

"We're going to assist South Africans chosen by the ANC in carrying out and moving forward with their oral history," he says.

Last semester he headed a team that began conducting interviews in South Africa and training South Africans in oral history skills. He notes that a South African will be selected to coordinate the project. The oral history project is being carried out as part of a three-year, $665,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to the UConn-ANC Partnership.

A Love of Teaching
Stave's interest in teaching and research overseas began almost a quarter-century ago, when he received a Fulbright award that took him to Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. He subsequently held Fulbrights in China in 1984-85 and India in 1985-86, and his lecture circuit has since brought him to more than a dozen other countries.

In 1999, he returned to China as a Fulbright Professor at Peking University in Beijing, where he focused on oral history. An article he wrote on oral history in China was translated into Chinese and published in that country.

His dedication to oral history is shared with a love for teaching.

From 1985 to 1994, he served as chair of the University's Department of History and today teaches both undergraduate and graduate students.

"I'm energized by teaching," says Stave. "One of the favorite courses I teach to undergraduates is History 232, an American History survey since 1877. The course reaches a wide audience of students and it's a good feeling to see a student who isn't a history major get excited about the subject."

At the graduate-level, he adopts a more interactive approach. "I'm dealing with students with a high interest level in the subject," he says. The approach allows students to put history under a microscope and analyze or interpret events or policy through shifts in time.

For this seasoned professor and author, history is a great teacher.

"You can learn from history," said Stave. "While it never exactly repeats itself, it will give you markers as to what could happen in the future."

Claudia G. Chamberlain