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Chafe to start a new chapter in career

Graduating seniors may be scrambling to figure out where they will be a month from now, but outgoing Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe already has a game plan that is good for at least the next few years.


Chafe will hand over the deanship to George McLendon July 1, returning to the history department he first joined over 30 years ago. Before he resumes teaching in Spring 2005, however, he plans to do a fair bit of traveling and writing.


In fact, Chafe has three or four books on the docket, the first of which is slated to be published a year from September. This book, he said, is comprised of eight biographical essays dealing with politics and character, highlighting such political figures as ex-U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton.


Chafe said the book is mostly written, with the exception of an epilogue on current President George W. Bush. After stepping down from his post as dean, Chafe will revise the essays for publication.

"The first book reflects my long-standing interest in politics and character," said Chafe, who is also an Alice Mary Baldwin distinguished professor of history. "What causes political leaders to respond as they do, particularly in crisis situations, and how does this relate back to their life experiences?"


Chafe said inspiration for his next post-deanship book stems from his long involvement in researching race in America. It will be a new interpretive overview of the age of segregation and will be done in collaboration with Robert Korstad, associate professor of public policy, and Raymond Gavins, professor of history. The three co-directed the Behind the Veil project together at the Center for Documentary Studies, collecting 1,250 interviews with African Americans who lived during the age of Jim Crow laws.


For his third book project, Chafe will update The Growth of the American Republic, a text originally written by mid-20th century narrative historians Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager and later updated by William Leuchtenburg.


"I view it as a great honor to be added to this group and to have the opportunity to write an overview of American history, as I have done for post-war America in my book, The Unfinished Journey," Chafe said. "[The Growth of the American Republic] is a different kind of textbook--elegantly written, with a narrative power I'll try to sustain."


Chafe said he is also considering but has not committed to writing a fourth book, a biography of Bill Clinton.


"The Clinton book is one I may do, and that goes back to my interest in politics and character, and because I see Clinton as one of the most fascinating people in American history," he said.


In addition to writing up a storm, Chafe said he will be traveling and lecturing around the world, with an itinerary that includes stays in Finland and France in the fall, Chile in December and Australia in May. He said his absence from the University will help him acclimate to life outside the deanship.


Over the next few years, Chafe will intersperse semester-long sabbaticals with semesters teaching at the University. Next spring, he said, he will be teaching a large lecture class on the United States since the New Deal in addition to the seminar on 20th century social movements that he is teaching this semester.


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