sealPurdue News

October 8, 1998

Purdue historian named Indiana professor of the year

WEST 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.

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They are the students of Michael Morrison, award-winning Purdue University associate professor of history. His latest accomplishment: being named the 1998 Indiana Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The award was announced today (Thursday, 10/8) by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which administers the program.

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,

John Larson, (765) 494-4136, e-mail,

John Contreni, (765) 494-4156, e-mail,

David Klinger, (219) 866-3100

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo Caption:
Purdue history professor Michael Morrison, the Indiana professor of the year, chats with former student Laura Weist, a junior from Lafayette, and junior history major David Klinger of Rensselaer, Ind. Morrison is on sabbatical this semester but still spends much time on campus where he is available to students. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
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