educator and commentator Frank Bryan has been thinking about the life
and legacy of the late Vermont Historian, Sam Hand.
Aldous Huxley wrote "Historians are the original creators of our common humanity" . Others call historians "the guardians of our collective
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.
Hand’s contributions bespeak the character of the model
teacher-scholar. They can be summarized by three brief examples.
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.
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
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
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.