The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

A Remembrance of William Appleman Williams

An interview with Bill Robbins conducted by Chris Petersen.

March 27, 2012


“Remembering William Appleman Williams”  March 27, 2012  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Listen to Audio | Download Transcript (PDF)

The interview begins with Robbins introducing himself and providing a thumbnail sketch of his education and path through academia. The session then turns to it's intended focus, Robbins' memories of William Appleman Williams.

Robbins begins by detailing his initial interactions with Williams, which came about while Robbins was still a graduate student at the University of Oregon. He describes the impact that two of Williams' books in particular made upon him - The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and The Contours of American History. He then notes his understanding of Williams' courtship and hiring by Oregon State University in 1968, and his sense of Williams' assessment of the History department and of the university at that time. He also reflects on Williams' facility as a skilled editor and traces the early stages of their relationship as colleagues and friends.

The session then turns its focus to Williams' personality, with Robbins speaking of Williams' social circle and his love of games, including pool and basketball. Robbins likewise describes Williams' sense of humor and theorizes on both the sources of Williams' innovative ideas and the influences that helped to shape his world view. From there, Robbins discusses the physical space where Williams worked on the Oregon coast, details the schedule that Williams kept as he traveled by bus back and forth from Waldport to Corvallis, and shares his thoughts on Williams' work habits, both as a reader and a writer.

Robbins next addresses the perception that the quality of Williams' scholarship declined during his OSU tenure, and in so doing discusses the growing fascination with community that defined much of Williams' work in his later years. He also conveys a sense of Williams' teaching style, the evolution of his role within OSU's History department, his larger presence university-wide, and his activities as president of the Organization of American Historians.

Near its conclusion, the interview returns in focus to an examination of Williams' personal characteristics. Robbins comments on Williams' love of jazz, photography and fishing, his struggles with alcohol, and the op-ed columns that he wrote for two Oregon newspapers. He also shares his memories of Williams' wife, Wendy, and of the maritime history courses that Williams developed late in his career. The session ends with Robbins reflecting on Williams' death in 1990 and the role that his valued friend continues to play in his life.