History prof named regents professor, highest U recognition

Melinda Rogers

Allen Isaacman stands with a twinkle in his eye before a wall covered with hundreds of pictures of students.

The history professor knows all the students by name and will more than likely share a personal story about each one.

“If you look at them, they represent the most diverse group of students on campus. All are exceptional,” Isaacman said.

Since beginning his tenure at the University in 1970, Isaacman has forged a number of personal relationships with students and people around the world.

Last week the University’s Board of Regents honored Isaacman’s contributions by naming him a regents professor.

The award is the highest recognition a faculty member can receive from the University.

“I was speechless,” Isaacman said of the award. “It’s the pinnacle of my academic career.”

Isaacman has spent the majority of his career teaching and studying African history, particularly the importance of preserving the experiences of ordinary people.

Traveling to Africa every year enables Isaacman to record oral histories from a variety of African people.

“What I love is to go into villages, turn on my tape recorder and talk for hours,” Isaacman said.

“There’s material they’ve learned that exists nowhere else. The major lesson I’ve learned is that there’s no one authentic version of the past,” he said.

Isaacman has published five books on African issues including anti-colonial resistance, the social history of peasants and the life experiences of slaves.

He helped establish the University’s Interdiscplinary Studies of Global Change program, which graduated 180 students in the past decade – many of whom are working abroad.

Isaacman’s list of achievements hasn’t been ignored by colleagues.

“Allen has taken the lead in building an extremely successful program that embodies the University’s commitment to increased diversity and progressed social change,” said political science professor Raymond Duvall.

“He’s an incredibly dedicated teacher and a leader in the field of African history,” Duvall added.

When he’s not spending time at the University or with his wife Bobbie, Isaacman enjoys keeping in touch with past students.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t e-mail at least five of my students,” Isaacman said.

“My greatest source of satisfaction at the University is having the opportunity to work with an enormously gifted group of students and faculty,” he concluded.