The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Bill Robbins Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

June 27, 2017


“Working Class Historian”  June 27, 2017  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

The Robbins interview begins with a detailed description of Robbins' upbringing in Connecticut. In recounting his early life, Robbins comments on his early memories of working on the family dairy farm, receiving a vocation-focused education, and choosing to enlist in the Navy to learn a trade. He then outlines his four-year Naval obligation, commenting on his training, his assignments, and his decision not to pursue a military career. Next, he traces his unsuccessful initial attempts to pursue a higher education, his employment by Great Mountain Forest, and his ultimate enrollment at Danbury State College.

Looking back on his undergraduate training at Danbury State, Robbins explains the circumstances that led him to identify History as a potential career field. From there, he recalls his brief graduate experience at Syracuse University, the life imperatives that led to his dropping out and moving to Oregon, and the renewal of his graduate career at the University of Oregon. He likewise shares his memories of campus culture at Oregon during the late 1960s, discusses his doctoral dissertation, and recounts the meagre job market that led to his first employment at Oregon College of Education.

The remainder of the session focuses on Robbins' career at Oregon State University. In this, he recounts his arrival at OSU; the status and evolution of the History department; memorable courses that he taught; and his sense of the ways in which OSU's History program compared and contrasted with the U of O's. He also touches briefly on a handful of the books that he authored, including a history of Oregon State University commissioned to coincide with the university's sesquicentennial. Dovetailing throughout these recollections are comments on the impact that historian William Appleman Williams made on Robbins' life and career. The interview concludes with thoughts on the importance of oral history and advice for current-day students of history.