The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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David Robinson Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

September 30, 2015


“Growing the Humanities at OSU”  September 30, 2015  Location: Center for the Humanities, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Robinson discusses his upbringing in west Texas, his education at the University of Texas - Austin, and the faculty members there who influenced him to pursue studies in English literature. He then touches upon his graduate pursuits at Harvard Divinity School and the University of Wisconsin - Madison, noting the beginnings of his interest in the American Transcendentalists that took root during these years.

The primary focus of the interview is Robinson's career as a humanities scholar at Oregon State University. In this, he recalls his acceptance of a faculty position at OSU, the transition period that the OSU College of Liberal Arts found itself in during that time, his early impressions of the university, and the genesis of what would become the OSU Center for the Humanities. From there, Robinson reflects on his evolution as a teacher, his leadership of the American Studies program, changes on campus that he has observed over the years, and his involvement with the Center for the Humanities as a fellow in the 1980s. Next, Robinson details his scholarly work on Ralph Waldo Emerson, notes his experiences in Germany as a Fulbright Fellow, and speaks of the impact and importance of the Oregon Professorship in English, the endowed chair that he has held since 1991.

As the session nears its conclusion, Robinson comments on the summer teacher instruction program on American Transcendentalism that he led for nine years, and shares his perspective on the activities of the Center for the Humanities, which he has directed since 2001. The interview closes with Robinson's thoughts on the continuing evolution of OSU and his own ambitions for the future.