History Professor Hugh Clark Reflects on Time at Ursinus

Dr. Hugh Clark of the history department. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Angermeier.

Luke Schlegel

luschlegel@ursinus.edu

Dr. Hugh Clark has worked in the history department for thirty-five years: twice as long as some of the freshmen at Ursinus have been alive. He had plans to retire after last year, but ended up coming back for one more. When he retires at the end of this semester, he will be leaving behind quite the legacy.

Dr. Clark came to Ursinus in the early 1980s. He was finishing graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and had a full-time job as an administrator for Penn’s  study abroad program yet he always knew that he wanted to be a professor. The academic market was bad at the time, but Ursinus was holding interviews for a part-time position as an East-Asian historian. Clark applied, thinking the interview would at least be a good learning experience, but then Ursinus offered him the job.

He told UC that he already had a full-time position, so they changed their offer to a one-year position with the promise that if things went well, he would be given a full-time job. The trial year went well, and Clark has been here since.

Dr. Clark describes himself as a “socio-cultural historian of middle-period China with a focus on the south-east coast.” Why so specific? Because you have to be in the broad field of history. But his experience has given him an appreciation for having to teach at a more holistic level. He recognizes that the hardest material to teach is what you know best.

Miles Holtzman, a junior history major who took historiography with Clark last year, found Clark’s teaching style refreshing and unique.

“Dr. Clark is great about interjecting [lectures] with interesting remarks or jokes to keep the class fresh,” said Holtzman.

Clark expressed similar ideas in his approach to how he teaches.” I like to use a lot of personal anecdotes when I teach,” he said. “By and large on my evaluations, students have always appreciated that.”

He wants his students to have an appreciation for the material he covers and the richness of other cultures. Not many students are invested in East Asian studies, but Clark does his best to help them recognize that people anywhere in the world all go through the same struggles and are not very different from who we are.

Dr. Clark is proud of what he has done during his time here. He said that, when he first came to Ursinus, “there was almost no tradition of faculty scholarship.”  Over time, Dr. Clark has certainly helped change that: He has quite a few publications to his name, and has worked for three years with four other faculty members to rewrite the entire faculty handbook.

He also takes pride in the transformation that takes place for Ursinus students from freshman to senior year. According to Clark, “you come in [to Ursinus], you’re 18, you’re insecure, and you’re still a high school student trying to make the stretch into being a college student. You [leave Ursinus as] a young adult.”

Edward Onaci, a colleague of Clark’s in the history department in his fourth year, spoke of Clark with high regard.

“[Clark] always has something thoughtful, witty, provocative and challenging to say,” said Onaci, laughing. “Usually all at the same time.”

Onaci summed up Clark in one word: genuine. In our culture where most people are experts at changing their persona, Dr. Clark is a rare gem.

“He is just himself,” said Onaci. “No matter what.”

After the end of this academic year, Dr. Clark and his wife will move to a cottage they own on the Maine coast. He will take advantage of the wilderness up north and looks forward to hiking, biking, and kayaking.

He sees retirement “as a time when you can still be yourself at a more relaxed pace.” Rest assured, Dr. Clark will still be his genuine self.

He plans on continuing his life as a scholar, but with the professor aspect on hold. There is, however, a college nearby specifically for senior citizens where he may do some teaching on the side to keep the spark alive. There is also the possibility of another publication, as he has been in talks with a publisher that has expressed interest in a particular topic in Dr. Clark’s area of expertise.