When I was a student here in the mid 1970s, I remember all those the smart kids who hung around Richard Slotkin, a young faculty member teaching literature, film, history, anthropology, cultural studies….or so it seemed to me from the buzz I heard about his classes and his scholarship. I remember sitting in the audience for a Center for the Humanities lecture based on his Regeneration Through Violence, a study that injected energy and purpose into the growing field of American Studies. Over the years Richie was one of the paragons of our scholar-teacher model: a beloved professor who was shaping the field of American Studies.
When I came back to Wesleyan as president, I asked Richie for advice about teaching large film classes (he was the master of this, as you can see from his iTunes class on Westerns), and he also gave me an earful on how the administration could do a much better job on any number of fronts. It was classic Slotkin: smart, engaged, and ready for real conversation. His retirement was a real loss for Wes (I keep asking him to come back to teach a course or two), but it has been a boon for readers who care about imagining the past. Check out his Amazon page, and you will find novels, history books, essays… He’s the real deal.
This week Prof. Slotkin is inaugurating a lecture series that has been created in his honor. His talk is entitled: “Thinking Mythologically: Black Hawk Down, the “Platoon Movie,” and the War of Choice in Iraq.” Here’s how Joel Pfister, who chairs American Studies, puts it:
Come see the amazing founder of the Wesleyan American Studies Department–Richard Slotkin–in action, THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 4:15, POWELL FAMILY CINEMA. Professor Slotkin was a member of the English Department, began the American Studies Department (when he was in his mid-twenties), and helped establish the Film Department, and was one of Wesleyan’s most popular and beloved teachers (the first professor to win Wesleyan’s Binswanger Teaching Award twice). He has not only written history, he has made it. Since his early thirties he has been internationally acclaimed as one of the greatest American Studies scholars and he played a foundational role in developing the analysis of empire and race in the field of American Studies. He taught hundreds of students each year in his movie courses on “Westerns” and also on war movies. In December he was interviewed about gun control on Bill Moyers’ PBS show and before that has been interviewed by the major networks on gun culture and movies (for instance, re-reading the Star Wars films as extensions of the “frontier myth”).
This should be a great event. Come hear one of Wesleyan’s truly remarkable scholar-teachers on Thursday afternoon.