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  September 13, 2004

Early American History Scholar
Named As New State Historian

A UConn alumnus who is a specialist in early American history, has won two Emmy awards, written two top 10 country music songs, and won numerous advertising prizes, has been named the state's historian and an assistant professor of history.

Image: Walter Woodward

Walter Woodward stands on the lawn of the Old State House in downtown Hartford. Woodward has been named as the new state historian and will teach at the Greater Hartford campus.
Photo by Peter Morenus

Walter W. Woodward, an assistant professor of history at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., who received his Ph.D. in early American history from UConn in 2001, will be based at the Hartford campus. He replaces Christopher Collier, the state historian since 1985, who retired this summer.

State statutes provide that the Board of Trustees appoint an appropriate history scholar to serve as the state's historian. "We are pleased that the position will now be based at the Hartford campus close to the state library, the state archives, and state government," says Fred Maryanski, interim provost. "Professor Woodward brings unique strengths to our American studies program."

Woodward, who used to spend summers with his father's family in Columbia, Conn., says he is delighted to return to a state he considers home. "Connecticut is a state rich in heritages and histories, and has been integral to the American story throughout the life span of the country," he says. "I hope to link the University's resources with the many history resources throughout the state. I think being the state's historian is about the best job you could ever have."

Woodward is writing a book about John Winthrop Jr. and the Hartford witch hunt of the 1660's. He previously served as director of education and information technology at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass, and was a consultant, co-producer, writer, and host of the Prime Time History Hour, produced by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Woodward says Winthrop, an early governor of the state and the founder of New London, was both very religious and very scientific. He became the most sought-after physician in New England.

"Winthrop in some ways really did provide a foundation for the intellectual development and experimentation for which Connecticut is famous," says Woodward. "He had a profound influence in shaping the colonial government and the culture of New England."

Woodward has written extensively for history magazines and has been a historical consultant to Highlights Magazine.

A former advertising executive with two agencies in Ohio, Woodward won eight Clio awards for advertising, created two Advertising Age magazine's Top Ten Radio Commercials of the Year in 1981, and won the award for "Best Radio Commercial in the World" from the International Radio and Television Society in 1991.

He also won Emmy Awards in 1988 for The Long Hot Summer of Lou Dials, a documentary about a former player in the Negro Baseball Leagues, and Celebrate Cleveland, a documentary series on cultural diversity in a Midwestern city.

He switched from advertising to history, he joked, after realizing that he didn't want his tombstone to commemorate him for selling more cornflakes than anyone else. "My wife and I sat at the kitchen table and mapped out a plan that would allow both of us to do what we'd always dreamed of doing," he says. His wife, Irene, dreamed of being a veterinarian and he dreamed of being an historian. She graduated from the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine in 1996, and he finished his Ph.D. in history at UConn a few years later.

The switch from advertising to history wasn't as dramatic as his first career switch, he says. While a senior in college majoring in English, Woodward wrote two national Top 10 country music songs, It Could Have Been Me in 1972 and Marty Gray (1970), both sung by Billie Jo Spears. That led him to a career in Nashville writing songs and advertising jingles.

The Woodwards' son, Mike, graduated from UConn in 2002. Their daughter, Halley, is a sophomore at Bard College.