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Bryan: Sam Hand Remembrance

07/09/12 5:55PM By Frank Bryan
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(Host) Writer, educator and commentator Frank Bryan has been thinking about the life and legacy of the late Vermont Historian, Sam Hand.

(Bryan) Aldous Huxley wrote "Historians are the original creators of our common humanity" . Others call historians "the guardians of our collective memory"

Recently, with the death of Professor Sam Hand, Vermont lost a leading guardian of our memory and humanity. This loss is especially sad for Vermonters because Vermont is one of the few states left in America that is a truly democratic polity - a place where behavior and governance are joined at the human scale.

Professor Hand's contributions bespeak the character of the model teacher-scholar. They can be summarized by three brief examples.

First was his teaching. He was a professor who would judge "distance learning" to be a dangerous oxymoron. Up close and personal was his style. It was driven by a thirst for truth, a taste for irony and a delight in the unexpected. The results of his long career penetrate every level of Vermont society. I never had a conversation with Sam in which I failed to learn something important I didn't know before.

Second is Professor Hand's published scholarship. The best example here is his definitive history of the Republican Party in Vermont - its creation, growth and decline between 1854 and 1974. The detail is profound, the documentation astounding, the diligence remarkable. I know of no other state that can boast of a better record of the rise and fall of majority party over a longer period of its history. This makes his book "The Star That Set: The Vermont Republican Party 1854-1974" important to scholars far beyond Vermont who seek an understanding of political change in democratic systems.

For me, however, Sam's crowning achievements came in the area of public service. One was the creation (with a lot of help from his friends) of the Center for Research on Vermont - a cross disciplinary unit at UVM that encourages scholars use Vermont as a "living laboratory" for research - often involving students. Sam Hand understood that the SIZE of Vermont was a tremendous advantage in establishing an ACADEMIC connection between university and community - a living nexus between our collective memory and how it is fashioned and preserved.

The Center for Research on Vermont stands in counterpoint to those who would switch prepositions and seek to change The University OF Vermont to simply the University IN Vermont. Sam demonstrated that while it is certainly important to emphasize the opportunities for students to be at UVM to experience Vermont, it is equally important for them to be at UVM to study Vermont.

Sam Hand. A keeper of the memory. I miss him already.

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