Bridging Magazine: What kinds of extra-curricular activities have you enjoyed most since you retired in 1998?
John Howe: My wife and I spent 2000-2001 in Washington, D.C., where I worked at the National Endowment for the Humanities to bring up a new grant program for faculty teaching at historically black, Hispanic serving, and Native American colleges and
universities. We have also enjoyed travel to China, Egypt, Costa Rica, Italy, and France. Visits with our two kids and their families in Florida and Pennsylvania, and with in-laws in Ohio and South Carolina, round out the list of our wanderings.
Bridging Magazine: Please describe your recent and current research projects.
Howe: I remain stubbornly busy with my writing agenda. In 2006, the University of Massachusetts Press brought out my book, Language and Political Meaning in Revolutionary America. In it, I argue that writers of the revolutionary generation transformed American political language. Though some employed language to capture universal truths and contain human behavior, as historians have often argued, others, preeminently the Federalists, accorded multiple meanings to key political terms, thus fashioning a language well suited to political experimentation and the rapidly changing circumstances of American political life. Contrary to much scholarly wisdom, it was not the Jeffersonians but the Federalists who fashioned the linguistic strategies essential to the creation of a truly democratic politics. More recently, I've been working on a project focused on changing practices of oral discourse in revolutionary politics, using Boston as a focal site. Work goes on, months go by, and I think that progress is being made. We shall see.
Bridging Magazine: You were very active throughout different parts of the university during your career at the University of Minnesota. In retrospect, what stands out as being among the most rewarding activities for you? In what ways are you currently involved in the academic community?
Howe: During my thirty plus years at the university, I logged considerable time in faculty governance and university affairs, and it's been satisfying to leave something of a mark on the institution. Fifteen or so years ago I chaired a committee charged with developing new liberal education requirements for all university undergraduates. As I soon discovered, there's no quicker way to learn about
academic politics than by debating the meaning of liberal education at a complex university! Perseverance and a strong committee, though, finally brought University Senate approval of our proposals. I like to think that students have benefited as a result.
Sometime after that, I put in two years as interim university librarian. As it happened, the Library brought up its long awaited on-line catalogue during those years, which proved a turning point in the library's ability to serve faculty and students. Though I had precious little to do with the accomplishment, I was pleased to share in the congratulations, then take advantage of the moment to strengthen the library's budget and political standing on campus. More recently, I've been active in the University Retirees Association where colleagues and I have helped secure a reduced parking rate for retirees, thus encouraging their continued participation in campus activities. At the moment, we're working to establish a small grants program intended to support retirees who wish to continue their professional work. On a grander scale, the Association will soon initiate discussions about creating a Center on the Twin Cities campus for programs and services important to retirees. The Center will also foster relationships between retirees and the university.
Bridging Magazine: You are currently organizing the Early American History Workshop. What does the workshop do, and why are you so committed to it?
Howe: I value learning what colleagues and graduate students in the department are up to and asking their help in figuring out my own work. Through the years, the Workshop has provided a splendid venue for students and faculty to share their work-in-progress. I'll enjoy keeping the Workshop going during the 2008-09 academic year.
Bridging Magazine: How has the university changed since you came here in 1965? Which changes are for the better, do you think, and which are cause for concern?
Howe: Across more than forty years, I've watched the university change in all sorts of ways. High on the list of positive changes would be a more selective and at the same time more diverse student body. On the down side, the university seems less firmly connected to the people and traditions of the state. As is true of many public institutions, a radically smaller portion of the university's budget comes from state legislative appropriations than previously, and more from undergraduate tuition and program-specific outside funding. No longer do the traditional Arts and Sciences center the university's intellectual mission. One has only to note shifts in research support, physical facilities, and faculty expansion across the university to find clear evidence of the institution's changing contours. America's public universities, always sensitive to the changing intellectual and political world around them, have taken on new shape any number of times in past years. Often that's been to the good of students and the general public. Yet today the outlook appears unclear. Once again it seems a timely moment to consider the university's larger purposes and mission.