The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Paul Kopperman Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

September 2, 2014


Paul Edward Kopperman was born in 1945 in Barranquilla, Colombia, where his father had found work and his family had temporarily relocated. In 1953 the Koppermans returned to their native New York City where Kopperman attended Forest Hills High School and, later, Queens College.

Kopperman entered his undergraduate studies intending to be a veterinarian. During his sophomore year at Queens however, he took his first college history course, and by the time he was a junior he had switched majors. In 1966 Kopperman graduated with a B.A. in History and a minor in Biochemistry. He began his master's degree studies at Queens the following year, but later decided to transfer to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1969, at Illinois, he completed his master's dissertation, "The Historiography of the Origins of the Spanish Armada." Keenly interested in British history, Kopperman focused on the Tudor-Stuart 16th and 17th centuries for his Ph.D. work, completing a biography, "Sir Robert Heath (1575-1649)," as his dissertation in 1972.

After finishing his doctoral work, Kopperman moved to Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia to lecture in British history. Two years later, in 1974, he returned to the United States and, during another stint at the University of Illinois, began researching General Edward Braddock's 1755 defeat at the Battle of Monongahela, which he later published as a book. During this time, between visiting professorships at Illinois, Kopperman returned to New York City to live with his mother and work in a factory. In the Fall of 1978, Kopperman found a permanent institutional home when he was hired as an assistant professor of history at Oregon State University.

Once arrived at OSU, Kopperman began reaching out to the local Jewish community. Most notably, in 1980 he became the advisor for Hillel, a national Jewish student society, and remained active in this capacity until 2001.

In the mid-1980s Corvallis experienced a number of incidents of hostility toward the area's Jews, including distribution of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi literature and, in 1985, broadcast of a public television program that included a sympathetic interview with leaders of hate groups. Kopperman joined with others in the community by speaking out against the incidents. It was in this context that Graham Spanier, OSU Provost and the son of a Holocaust survivor, decided to take advantage of a 1979 Congressional act that devoted a week each spring to Holocaust remembrance.

In 1986 Spanier asked Miriam Orzech, director of the university's Educational Opportunities Program, to assist him with the planning of a Holocaust Remembrance Week. Kopperman was invited to join the committee that Orzech subsequently put together and, in April 1987, OSU held its first Remembrance Week. The event has taken place annually ever since, with Kopperman continuing his yearly involvement. In 1993 Orzech retired from the Holocaust Committee and Kopperman filled her seat as program director, a position that he continues to hold.

Kopperman was promoted to professor in 1990, and continues to teach in OSU's School of History, Philosophy and Religion. For fifteen years the advisor of the OSU History Club, he currently advises the Religious Studies Club and teaches the interdisciplinary course "Why War?" as well as two online courses. He is also working on a new book, studying health and sickness in the 18th century British Army.