2002 Columns magazine Feature;History Lessons.


"Not too many other countries continue to look back to the past for legitimacy," he says. "People in Europe don't look back to the good old days of feudalism and child labor as something we should bring back."

As the title suggests, the lecture series will also focus on the lives and perspectives of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson. They were three men who stood out as exceptional leaders of the time and yet their ideas about how the new nation should be formed are rich for Johnson's comparisons.

"None of them were typical of the people around them," he says. "They did represent, I think, three different approaches to the revolution. They had many common experiences. They were all involved in diplomacy rather than in warfare during the American Revolution. They all had, I think, different approaches to and conceptions of the world around them.

"Franklin was much more the pragmatic entrepreneur and politician. Adams was a more puritan lawyer and moralist. Jefferson was immensely talented in many directions but a more romantic, agrarian-oriented thinker. Each of them sort of represents the regions that come together to form, eventually, the United States."

He couldn't help but see, in the form of the growing free speech controversy at Berkeley, how the American Revolution continued to affect the modern world.

For all Johnson's knowledge-firsthand and otherwise-of important protests and revolutions in American history, the man is far from a rabble-rouser. Rather, he's patient, unassuming and well respected by students and colleagues. Friends unfailingly mention his good, and good-natured, sense of humor.

As Findlay says, "The best humor is often self-deprecating and, in a world of pompous professors, Richard Johnson knows how to see the humor in a variety of situations, but, as important, he also knows how to laugh at himself."

Not only that, Findlay says Johnson is far more apt to lend a helping hand than to raise one in defiance.

"The man's sense of service to this university is just huge," he says. "He's been chair. He's served all over the university on different kinds of committees. It's hard for him to say no, which is another reason he's doing this lecture series. He wants to be helpful and he almost always is."

Johnson is far more apt to lend a helping hand than to raise one in defiance

Even when it comes to financial support, Johnson and his wife, Carol Thomas, also a UW history professor, have worked to strengthen the department's recruiting efforts. With the help of Microsoft, the couple created a $100,000 endowed fellowship that supports graduate students in the department.

Talking about the accomplishments of the students supported by that fellowship is almost as rewarding for Johnson as talking about history. Many of the students have gone on to earn faculty positions at prestigious institutions.

He's typically understated about his financial involvement in the fellowship, saying only, "it's a modest kind of a thing, but it's something we wanted to do."


Steve Hill is a writer in the UW Office of News and Information and the assistant editor of University Week.

The lecture series opens on Jan. 15 in Kane Hall. Lectures will run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays through Feb. 12. Tickets for the entire five-lecture series cost $20-$60 and individual lecture tickets cost $5-$15. For more ticket information call (206) 543-3839 or go to UWalum.com on the Web.

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