Howard Chudacoff has been at Brown for longer than some academics at the University have been alive.
“When I arrived at Brown in 1970 I was the 14th member in this department,” he recounted on Saturday night. There are now 52 faculty members listed on the department website.
Professor Chudacoff's retirement celebration began around 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon, April 29th, with a line of guests nearly reaching the Faculty Club doors. One by one they embraced Chudacoff as he stood at the front of Huttner Room on the first floor. Many of his guests were colleagues from the department, friends, or family members — but a number were former students. After a brief introduction and welcome from Professor of American History Robert Self and Chair of the History Department Ethan Pollock, five speakers took the podium to tell their stories of Chudacoff’s impact on their lives.
Karl Jacoby, Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, was the first to speak about his personal experience with Chudacoff.
“I’ve known Howard in many roles,” Jacoby began. “I first encountered him when I was an undergraduate at Brown. His class was unlike any other history class I’d ever taken.”
Professor Chudacoff went on to serve as Jacoby’s senior thesis advisor and provided guidance as he focused on immigration history and schooling in 19th century Rhode Island. Jacoby later applied to graduate school with a letter of recommendation from Chudacoff and, later, came full circle when he was offered a position to teach as a faculty member at Brown alongside his former advisor.
“Howard and his wife Nancy were unbelievably generous in welcoming me back to Providence,” said Jacoby. “I’ve known him as a teacher, author, mentor, colleague, and ultimately as a friend. It’s no exaggeration to say he has taught me a lot — almost everything I know as a historian.”
Another speaker, Luther Spoehr, Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Education at Brown after retiring in 2019, began his speech to Chudacoff with a reference to Carol King’s song “So Far Away.”
“Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” Spoehr joked. “At Brown they do!”
Spoehr went on to explain that for many educators, himself included, Brown has long been viewed as a destination University with excellent retention for long-term faculty. Fifteen years ago when Professor Chudacoff approached Spoehr about teaching a course called “The History of Intercollegiate Athletics,” Spoehr couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“I want to emphasize the joy that Howard brings to everything,” Spoehr told the room. “Being in a classroom with Howard was one of the great pleasures of teaching here at Brown.”
After the final speaker concluded, Chudacoff took the podium to address his guests. He opened with a joke, seemingly indicative of his personality, but grew serious as he continued speaking. He noted his wife Nancy’s support through the years and thanked members of the department for organizing the celebration for him. Lastly, Chudacoff turned his attention to the individuals whom he’d taught, shared knowledge with, and helped to achieve their own dreams.
“My truly heartfelt thanks goes to all of the students here tonight and who have meant so much to me over the years,” he began. “You really taught me what the rewards and joys are of committing myself to the students. That’s why I’ve been here for 53 years.”