October 8, 1998
Purdue historian named Indiana professor of the yearWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- His students say he "tricks" them into learning. They phone home -- not for money, but to tell mom and dad about his lectures. Some students sit in on his classes just for sheer enjoyment.
Morrison, an expert in early American history, is the fourth Purdue professor to earn this award in the past six years. The award is given in recognition of extraordinary dedication to teaching, commitment to students and innovative teaching methods.
His classroom demeanor embodies a philosophy that history isn't dead. Abandoning a podium, he prowls the room -- sometimes shouting, sometimes whispering to the students. He displays a passion for his subject with a narrative style of teaching that engages students.
"In a rapidly changing society, some will argue that the study of history seems increasingly irrelevant," he says. However, he responds that citizens who know our past and are familiar with previous issues are better equipped with critical-thinking skills to confront today's tough questions and concerns.
"The crisis facing the historical profession today is how to incorporate previously silent voices -- those of African-Americans, women, ethnic groups and workers -- and still maintain the grand story of our history," Morrison says.
His answer is to combine his narrative lectures with weekly small discussion sessions and writing assignments. "The sub-theme that runs throughout the weekly sessions is the recurring question of what it means to be an 'American.' These opportunities allow my students to integrate new history into the standard historical narrative," he says.
Morrison also teaches from multiple points of view. For example, in describing the events leading up to the Civil War, he outlines the views of the Northerners who were anti-slavery, the Southerners who were pro-slavery, and the Democrats who were in the middle. "I had one student tell me that throughout the semester she tried to figure out my political leanings -- and couldn't. I took that as a sign that I was doing a good job of teaching," he says.
Morrison, who joined the Purdue faculty as an assistant professor in 1991, has twice been honored by the university for his teaching. Last spring he was one of five recipients of Purdue's Charles B. Murphy Award for Undergraduate Instructional Excellence, the highest teaching award given by the university. In 1994 he won the School of Liberal Arts Teaching Award.
An anonymous student wrote this in rating Morrison: "My roommate took this course last semester, and he made me come in and listen to some of your lectures ... After I came and listened, I kept coming back ... So I took the course this semester and I want you to know that you're probably the best teacher I've ever seen."
An undergraduate student in engineering wrote this about Morrison: "His teaching style has somehow tricked me into wanting to learn -- not just History 151, but how events today impact me."
It's not just Morrison's students who gush about him. Colleague John Larson, associate professor of history, says: "Morrison's style and charisma have won him an enviable place in the local student folklore of 'who's hot' among undergraduate teachers. But he's also a serious scholar." Larson says Morrison's teaching reflects a "solid and up-to-date stock of scholarly understanding."
The crown jewel of Morrison's scholarly work is the book "Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War." The book, published in 1997, received glowing praise from reviewers. He is also co-editor of the Journal of the Early Republic.
Professor John Contreni, former head of the Department of History, says that besides being a gifted lecturer and excellent research scholar, Morrison has a genuine concern for students. "Concern for learning and for the learner, in my book, is the glue that binds together subject knowledge and effective lecturing," Contreni says.
Such is the testimony of David Klinger, a junior history major from Rensselaer, Ind. "Morrison seems to be always at the ready to spend time with his students. I live 50 miles from campus and have always been free to call him at home, in the evenings and on Sundays, without any sense of ill-response from him," Klinger says.
Morrison's magic works. From spellbinding performances in a darkened lecture hall to one-on-one encounters, his students know there's more here than smoke and mirrors. Says Contreni: "Morrison is the kind of teacher students will remember 30 years from now -- not only because he taught them a subject -- but because he also influenced their development as people."
Sources: Michael Morrison, (765) 494-4804; e-mail, email@example.com
John Larson, (765) 494-4136, e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Contreni, (765) 494-4156, e-mail, email@example.com
David Klinger, (219) 866-3100
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com