Ethan Schmidt, 1975–2015
David Trowbridge , February 2016
Historian of Early America
Ethan Andrew Schmidt passed away on September 14, 2015, in Cleveland, Mississippi. Ethan was a devoted husband and father, a brilliant and self-driven historian, a dedicated teacher, and a friend to many in the profession. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Skolaut Schmidt, and their children, Conor, Dylan, and Brianna.
After graduating from Peabody High School in Kansas, Ethan obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Emporia State University. Ethan loved Emporia State and served his alma mater with distinction, holding the office of student body president while leading Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Ethan completed his doctorate from the University of Kansas and worked as an assistant professor at Texas Tech University and Delta State University.
As a scholar, Ethan leaves behind several articles and two books that enrich the field of early American history: Native Americans in the American Revolution (Praeger, 2014) and The Divided Dominion: Social Conflict and Indian Hatred in Early Virginia (Univ. of Colorado Press, 2015). As an educator, Ethan touched the lives of thousands and inspired the creation of memorial scholarships at several institutions where he was a student and teacher. Comments from students who have contributed to these funds demonstrate Ethan’s generosity. “I owe this $10 to you, Dr. Schmidt,” one student wrote. “You gave me two books when you were my thesis adviser and I miss you greatly.”
Ethan’s generosity began at Emporia State, where he shared his notes with classmates and took the time to prepare the author of this essay for his first teaching job. “Ethan Schmidt represented all the best things in our profession,” recalled graduate adviser John Sacher. “He was a dedicated scholar-teacher, who always had time to help and cheer on others, whether they were students or colleagues. In a profession where we are less helpful than we should be to our peers, Ethan stood out in his willingness to help and cheer on others.”
At the University of Kansas, Ethan Schmidt was not simply the leader of the graduate student cohort; he was its center of gravity. Fellow students recall with fondness how Ethan fell naturally into this role as the owner of the only coffeepot in the basement of Wescoe Hall. Yet it was Ethan who chose to be the first to arrive each morning, to keep the pot full, and to share his space with others. “Looking back, Ethan was the center of it all,” recalled John Schneiderwind. “We all naturally gravitated to his personality, his humor, and his love of learning. . . . That was Ethan’s magic and beauty.”
Colleagues recall that Ethan’s magic included the capacity to complete his own work while reviewing countless first drafts, lecture notes, and dissertation proposals from colleagues. “If you had a question about teaching,” recalled Nicole Anslover, “Ethan would happily put his own work aside and discuss your problem.” Ethan often knew the work of his colleagues on a level greater than their own. “I remember nearing the end of graduate school and I could not come up with a suitable title for my dissertation,” Anslover recalled. “It was Ethan, feet up on his desk, tossing a ball of paper in the air, who easily came up with the words I was unable to find.”
Ethan’s love of history and service to his friends and university was surpassed only by his love of family. Colleagues recall that Ethan arose before dawn and completed his work alone so that he could spend more time with his wife and children. Whether traveling to an academic conference or returning to Lawrence to deliver a lecture, Ethan shared every journey with his family. He gave his time generously, coaching Little League and embracing his adopted homes in Texas and Mississippi while serving as an ambassador for Jayhawk basketball and all things Kansas.
Ethan’s love of family and friends and his dedication to the field of history were reflected throughout his eulogy, fittingly delivered by his dissertation adviser Paul Kelton with the help of Ethan’s colleagues from around the country. In his conclusion, Kelton shared a quote that reflected his former student’s love of history. “I value the fact that inquiry for the sake of inquiry is honored in the profession,” Ethan stated in a recent AHA Member Spotlight Q&A. “We never accept the conventional wisdom or current paradigm as an acceptable answer. To be a historian . . . is to grapple with the very core of what it is that makes us human. Our triumphs, our tragedies, our flaws, and our strengths are all laid bare by the scholarly study of history, and without this kind of inquiry there is little hope for mankind.”
The full measure of our loss cannot be measured without reflecting upon our obligation to do something more than simply come together to mourn a friend and colleague. Ethan died while doing a job he loved, but he was taken from us by a growing epidemic of gun violence that has infected our schools and universities. As the executive director of the AHA often reminds us, “Everything has a history.” Ethan understood this history better than most, as a scholar whose work centered on our nation’s failure to stop an epidemic of violence in the 17th century. Ethan would be the first to remind his fellow historians of our obligation to reject the “current paradigm as an acceptable answer.” Let us remember Ethan as a scholar, friend, and father by resolving ourselves to preserve our colleges and communities as safe places to learn and live.
Donations may be made to support the education of Ethan and Elizabeth’s three children at https://www.gofundme.com/j546db5s.
David Trowbridge, Marshall University
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