No one’s eyebrows shot up more than David Good’s when the University of Minnesota tapped him to direct its Center for Austrian Studies (CAS). With his dossier trumpeting an M.B.A. in finance as well as an interdisciplinary history Ph.D., Good believed he’d be an unlikely choice to helm a center devoted heavily to Austrian historical and cultural studies.
by Kate Tyler
“It seemed to be a perfect position for me, but I thought they would want a more conventional historian,” says Good, who calls his 1990 hiring by the U “a central transformative event of my life.” Having retired this past June, he is reflecting on his remarkable career over lunch at Minneapolis’s casually bohemian Café Barbette, one of his favorite spots.
Good had been a professor of economic history at Temple University for 16 years, where he enjoyed an international reputation, but he feared the CAS would be put off by his data-driven training and scholarship. What saved the day was what he calls “a happy accident of geographic focus—a good illustration of the way contingencies shape the unfolding of history, both personal or global.” Although he was in the economics department at Temple, his work on the Hapsburg Empire (which ruled much of Central Europe for six centuries) happened to fit perfectly within the field of Austrian historical studies. More, as one of very few scholars charting the economic history of the period, Good arguably was among the field’s intellectual vanguard.
His arrival at the CAS and on the history faculty plunged him into the stimulating milieu of interdisciplinary study. “I was interacting with cultural historians, German literary people, sociologists, geographers. It had a huge impact on me,” Good recalls.
His intellectual renewal spilled over into his teaching. He revamped his undergraduate course on European economic history, which at Temple had rested on standard economics texts, to be “a broad look at how economics has related to culture and politics.” With colleagues, he also brought the department new graduate-level courses on comparative economic history and the history of capitalism. More recently, he developed an innovative freshman seminar on the American Midwest.
Good often steers the conversation toward how much he learned from his colleagues. Yet they, in turn, are apt to talk of Good’s influence on their own work and his role in broadening historical scholarship at Minnesota. As CAS director for six years, Good is credited with having linked Austrian studies more firmly to European studies. He also helped steer the history department at a crucial time of generational change. In the late 1990s, with colleague M.J. Maynes, he presided over an audacious “mega search” that replaced retiring faculty with four of the best historians in the country. As department chair from 2000–03, he led an invigorating strategic planning initiative that created a blueprint for future hiring and an aggressive funding program to recruit top graduate students.
Good’s scholarly evolution has been unflagging. Just four years ago, he abandoned a book project on the economic history of Central and Eastern Europe since 1750 to turn his attention to an entirely new subject: the history of the American Midwest in a global setting over the last four centuries.
The seeds have been germinating for years. As a young man, Good couldn’t wait to leave his small downstate Illinois town for what he presumed would be the headier ether of the East Coast. Now, he says, “I think I’m interested in reconstructing that part of my life that I discarded when I was young. And on a cultural and intellectual level, the Midwest offers an extraordinary lens for a larger perspective on the world—you can tell the story of America from the industrial age to the global economy through the history of a Midwestern town.”
Using his own hometown of Kewanee, Ill., as a case study, Good hopes to write a series of essays or a book, possibly for a popular audience, combining “history, biography, and memory—essentially throwing over all the vestiges of my old scholarly apparatus,” he smiles. He has refined some of his ideas in community presentations and, for three years, in his freshman seminar on the Midwest that employs everything “from hard-core economic history to slave narratives.”
He also has quietly nurtured another pet project. With his spouse, Rosemary Good, he has endowed a fellowship fund in history. The fund annually provides a semester’s funding for a graduate student, “and we hope, with additional contributions, to get it up to a year,” says Good.
“It’s a way of leaving a tangible legacy in the history department beyond someone’s memory of me. But more than that, it’s a good way for both Rosemary and me to express our gratitude to the University of Minnesota,” says Good.
“We’ve always been very much a team—a great couple in life for 41 years as of June—and our move to the Twin Cities was wonderful for both of us. Both of us made new friends, found new interests, and reinvented ourselves here”—in Rosemary’s case, moving from the field of music to concentrate on needle-related crafts (she now specializes in textile conservation and hanging for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and private clients).
Both of the Goods’ two children also have creative interests, Good adds. Son Adam, who lives in the Netherlands, is a guitarist specializing in the folk music of Eastern Europe. Daughter Allison, in the Twin Cities, is a freelance orchestral violinist as well as a human resources manager.
Over the years, the Goods often have welcomed students and faculty to their home for fondly-remembered parties, and they plan to continue hosting dinners for their fellowship recipients. But they may have to step off a Moroccan hiking path or a Twin Cities dance floor to do so. The two met (“and fell in love at first sight, or pretty near,” Good says) in a college summer-study program in Vienna, and they have been inveterate travelers ever since—in recent years touring Alaska, Hawaii, and Egypt by foot through a group called Country Walkers. And in the past year, the Goods have become impassioned ballroom dancers who waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, swing, and cha-cha every chance they get at the On Your Toes dance studio and other venues.
“I find dancing exhilarating,” says Good. “It requires athleticism, and grace of course. But it is challenging in other ways, too. It requires a whole new way of being and interacting—I have to learn to lead in a whole new way.”