History professor’s legacy becomes more historic

Photograph Courtesy of Ursinus Communications

Joe Makuc


     On Mar. 9, 2018, the Bucks County Historical Association created the Ross Doughty Award in honor of retiring Ursinus history professor Dr. Ross Doughty. On Mar. 24, The Ross Doughty Award will be awarded in recognition of a Philadelphia-focused history project as part of National History Day. Hosted at Ursinus since 1996, the annual National History Day competition of Bucks and Montgomery Counties helps students from grades 6-12 bring history to life in a variety of projects.

     Doughty, who has served as chair of the history department for 19 years, has been a part of National History Day at Ursinus since its beginnings.

     “John Strassburger had just become president of Ursinus College and the Board Chairman was a wonderful fellow named William Heefner,” Doughty reflected. “One of [Heefner’s passions] was history, particularly local history, and he was also the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bucks County Historical Society.  The Bucks County Historical Society and the Mercer Museum in Doylestown somehow secured the responsibility of organizing the Bucks and Montgomery Counties regional National History Day competition and were looking for a place to stage it. So, John Strassburger, on behalf of Bill Heefner, asked the History Department to help out.”

     Doughty volunteered to host National History Day with the cooperation of Julia Sefton, Bucks County Historical Society’s Director of Education at the time, and the program took off. Though the competition started small, over the twenty-plus years Ursinus has hosted the event, it has “slowly [grown] to an average of about 400 contestants,” said Doughty.

     But National History Day isn’t just a big deal for the contestants–Doughty emphasized the importance of the Ursinus community in facilitating the experience. Thanking Margie Connor, Dr. Edward Onaci, and alumni volunteers for their service, Doughty also applauded various Ursinus institutions: “Facilities Services and the Athletic Department have been the most important, but Campus Safety, Sodexo, and College Communications have also played significant roles. Also, I have always had numerous volunteers from among the history majors to help out as student assistants.”

     Two of those students are senior history majors Jake Nop and Elijah Sloat. Nop volunteered at National History Day sophomore year and both will be volunteering this year.

      According to Nop, the two seniors will work on the sidelines this year, “doing manual labor that facilitates the competition.”

     Sloat praises the event for its ability to “bring students starting on the history path together with professors who’ve dedicated their careers to that path.”

     Because of Doughty’s long history with facilitating National History Day and encouraging young historians, both Nop and Sloat emphasize Doughty as a perfect fit for the award.

      According to Nop, Doughty fostered a positive history community, advising students “about what [they] needed to do to be successful…if [they] put in the effort, [they] would be rewarded for it.”

     Sloat agreed, emphasizing Doughty’s “foresight in what you can do in the study of history.” For Sloat, Doughty’s variety of approaches to classroom history, including incorporating “film and other non-traditional topics,” echoed Doughty’s commitment to bringing history to the community.

     Dr. Doughty is retiring this year, and similarly, National History Day is leaving Ursinus. “The regional competition will be moving from Ursinus to [Delaware Valley University] next year,” Doughty explained.

     But just as Nop and Sloat can testify to Doughty’s impact, National History Day has also left a legacy.

     “During the past 22 years, literally thousands of middle and high school students, their parents, and their teachers have visited Ursinus, and I’m sure that has helped to spread our name, recruit students, and facilitate community relations,” Doughty said.

     While Doughty is honored to have the prize named for him, he emphasized its communal nature, considering it “an honor for Ursinus College as well.” He wants “to thank everybody at the college [who has] helped over the years.” Doughty and National History Day both endure in the Ursinus Community.