AHA Member Spotlight: Thomas Turner
Thomas Turner is an emeritus professor and part-time faculty member at Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He lives in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and has been a member since 1971.
Alma maters: AB, Boston University, 1963; AM, Boston University, 1964; PhD, Boston University, 1971
Fields of interest: US Civil War, Lincoln, Lincoln assassination, American assassinations, Vietnam, normal school movement
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?
In 1971, I presented a paper to the Lincoln Group of Boston. Afterward, as I walked back to my car, Jordan Fiore, the chair of the Bridgewater history department and division director, was leaning against a fence and said to me, “I understand you are looking for a job.” I replied that I was, and he asked if I could come down the following week. I had been commissioned in the ROTC at BU and had served two years of active duty, and I was leaving for Reserve Annual Training on Thursday. I traveled to Bridgewater on Tuesday and interviewed with Jordan, a couple of deans, and the president. I had lunch with some of the history department faculty, but they really had nothing to do with the hiring. At the end of the interview, the president said, “Welcome aboard.” Jordan verified the hiring with the president, and we agreed I would contact him on my return to talk about what I would teach. I went from being unemployed on Saturday to a tenure-track position on Wednesday. There is even one additional twist, since another faculty member, Jean Stonehouse, had accompanied Jordan to my lecture. Jordan had already pulled out of the parking lot when Jean said to him, “We are looking to hire someone and that was a good paper.” Had he not turned around, I have no idea where I would have been working.
What do you like the most about where you live and work?
I was born and raised in Massachusetts and I love the area, particularly its rich history. Bridgewater State was a perfect fit for me and a great place to teach and conduct scholarship with congenial colleagues.
What projects are you currently working on?
I admit to being at an age and point in life where I probably am not going to undertake another book project. My most recently published scholarly work was a chapter in a book, The Lincoln Assassination Riddle (2016), and I have edited the Lincoln Herald for 27 years; I am the longest serving editor in its history.
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?
I have always been a believer in teaching a few things and teaching them well, so I have concentrated on the Civil War, Lincoln, and the Lincoln assassination. I also taught a course for many years about Vietnam, and in more recent years I have done a lot of research and writing on the Normal School movement.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?
Going through the Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, I discovered that Lincoln contributed $10 toward the building of the National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While researching Bridgewater’s history, I found a photo of Sarah Lewis, an African American student admitted in 1867, who graduated in 1869. Prior to my discovery, we believed our first African American graduate was in 1912.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc., that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
The Conspirator, a movie about Lincoln’s assassination, directed by Robert Redford. I was one of the historians who worked on the film.
What do you value most about the history discipline?
I enjoy the fact that there are always numerous sides of debate about historical issues. I tell students, if you want more certainty, major in math.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you?
I am an almost 50-year member and consider it essential for any historian to belong to the premier historical society.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
I attended the annual meeting in New York in the 1960s with a group of grad student friends, among them a Catholic priest. We were waiting in a long line for dinner outside of Mama Leone’s when the hostess spotted Father Vinny’s clerical collar. Much to the annoyance of the people who had been standing in line and much to Father Vinny’s embarrassment, we were ushered in and immediately seated.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.