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History never looked so good: professors' Centennial books enlighten, entertain

By Linda Bonnin

As the University of Memphis gets ready to celebrate its centennial, two of its professors knew they had to play a key role.

“We knew the centennial was coming up and this was something we had to do,” said Beverly Bond.

For the past three years, Bond, an associate professor in history and director of the U of M’s African and African-American Studies program, and Janann Sherman, professor and chair of the history department, have immersed themselves into producing two books on the University’s history. One is a small, paperback pictorial; the other is a large, hard cover book.

Dr. Janann Sherman and Dr. Beverly Bond have written two books about the U of M’s history to help celebrate the University’s centennial celebration, which begins later this year.

“We wanted to do a real history,” said Sherman, who handled the writing while Bond took over the editing, a process that has worked on their two previous collaborations, Memphis in Black and White (a history of the city of Memphis) and a picture book on Beale Street. “The hardest part was deciding what should go in and what we would leave out. We didn’t want it to be a dry, institutional history.”

Instead of focusing on chronology, presidential tenures or notable alumni for the framework of the larger book, Bond and Sherman chose to format it around the school’s five changes to its name and mission. They also decided to focus on telling stories to give readers a feel for what it must have been like at the U of M over the past 100 years.

“This university almost shut down on two or three occasions,” said Sherman. “It was difficult for this school to survive, especially during the Depression. It was just hanging on and John Brister (former president) was fighting to save it without strong support from the state. I was surprised at how desperate the circumstances were in those days.”

Self-described late bloomers, Bond and Sherman earned their PhDs at ages 50 and 49. They met in 1996 when Sherman was part of the committee that hired Bond for the history department. Not only are they book collaborators, but they have also developed a program on African-American women in American history, which they plan to begin offering online, and they recently traveled to South Africa to explore setting up an exchange program in Cape Town.

“We’ve blazed new trails together,” Sherman said.  “We’re best friends.”

Bond has an especially strong affinity for their latest project since she has three degrees from the U of M.

“I can’t imagine anybody else doing this,” she said. “This fell into our lap and we decided it would be fun to do it together.”

After the coffee table book is released later this year and the pictorial book in 2012, they have another project in mind: preserving the history they have collected for future generations. 

“We can’t possibly use all of the photos and stories,” said Sherman. “That’s why we’re committed to finding some other way to preserve it.”

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