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November 30, 2023

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Hess acknowledged for accomplishments

The vertical blinds of the student-filled classroom illuminate dust floating about the air. A beam of light falls upon the face of the calm, aged instructor. He moves away and a student snaps the blinds shut.

The instructor leans against the podium with both elbows, and begins one of his frequent moments of silence, collecting his thoughts.

“Today… class… we begin our discussion of the Vietnam War,” says the instructor, followed by another brief silence, “Why did we fight this war? What is the significance of Vietnam?”

Several hands shoot up, and the instructor takes each one in order. Each student’s reply is listened to and appreciated as if it were straight out of the textbook, as it usually is. After all of the responses have been made, the instructor lectures briefly. Within moments, he asks another question of the class.

The cycle of question, answer, lecture continues throughout the entire semester. It repeats itself in class, on assignments, and, finally, on the examinations.

Enter the teaching style of Dr. Gary Hess, Distinguished Research Professor of the University’s history department, who was recently chosen to lead the Ohio Academy of History, a group that promotes high standards of teaching in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and museums.

The academy has been in existence for about 85 years and has roughly 500 members, most of them professors, but some high school history teachers, archivists and government historians.

Hess was first nominated by a committee and then elected at the academy’s spring meeting on April 17. He will serve this year as president-elect, next year as president, and finally a year as past president.

Hess makes the fifth University faculty member to lead the organization.

“The Ohio Academy of History is the major professional organization of historians in the state. Our faculty have been involved with the academy since the beginning,” said Peter Way, chair of the history department. “Gary’s being named president is indicative of his stature in the field, both inside and outside of Ohio.”

A widely known expert on the Vietnam War, Hess’ stature stems from his many publications.

He is the author of “Presidential Decisions for War: Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf,” published by John Hopkins University Press in 2001, and described by David W. Levy of the University of Oklahoma as “a stroke of genius..”

Hess also authored “Vietnam and the United States: Origins and Legacy of War,” now in its second edition, and “The United States’ Emergence as a Southeast Asian Power, 1940-1950,” published in 1999.

“Dr. Hess’ reputation for scholarship and historical interpretation were known to me before I came to BGSU, and his work in chronicling the war in Southeast Asia was mandatory reading for graduate students at the University of California, which is where I first encountered him,” said Jack Benge, an alumni of the University who played a minor role in the editing of one of Hess’ books.

Hess said that he has been working on different aspects of the Vietnam War since it was fought, and he is very fortunate in that regard. “Once you get known, then you get assignments,” he said.

He was originally from Pittsburgh, where he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He then attended the University of Virginia, where he received his Ph.D. in 1965.

He spent a year in India as a Fulbright Scholar before coming to the University, and would later return to India three more times as a Fulbright Lecturer.

Dr. Kenneth Kiple, who has worked with Hess since he started teaching at the University in 1970, describes him as a leader, “Gary is a leader, and he’s always been a leader. He was chair of the department for a number of years and he instituted lots and lots of programs and reforms.”

Hess served two non-consecutive terms as chair of the history department, when the department began its Ph.D. program, started offering special interest courses at the 300 level, and received a major grant from the Ohio Board of Regents that funded the graduate program, attracting students and faculty to the department. About 20 years ago, Hess served as acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, where he helped the University facilitate a smooth transition from the old quarter system to the current semester system.

Hess also served on the committee that chose current University President Sidney Ribeau.

He is also the current faculty advisor for Phi Alpha Theta, and he recently got a chance to show his lighter side at the group’s induction ceremony. “He was telling a story about the teacher evaluations students fill out at the end of the semester. One of his students told him that the worst thing about his class was the sweaters he wore on a daily basis. He told the story much better, but he had all of the inductees laughing really hard,” Genn Reiter, Phi Alpha Theta member said.

Hess’ teaching style is centered on the student. This style has won him rapport from many history students. According to Reiter, Hess is one of the professors most recommended by history students. “He is really funny, he knows his field well, he makes class interesting, and he really cares about his students,” said Reiter.

Benge agrees, “he is certainly well-liked and admired for his good nature, humor,

evenness of temperament and ability to command the attention of an entire class of students at any given moment. I especially loved the way he encouraged us to really think about the many dimensions and different perspectives generated by the events and issues we discussed in his class,” Benge said.

When Benge came to the University, he found many inspiring role models in the history department. “Dr. Hess is one and, like the others, inspired me to think and act in ways I had not been accustomed … I couldn’t have achieved this if I hadn’t had confidence in their judgment and their commitment to the process through which I would become a historian in my own right. They earned that trust, almost effortlessly, and whenever I encounter problems as an instructor, it’s their advice and example that helps me through,” Benge, who is a doctoral candidate, said.

In his spare time, Hess likes to watch movies, listen to the musical group ABBA, and exercise. “I’m a bit of a fanatic about exercise,” he said.

A cross country runner, Hess recently stopped competing in 10k races, because, he said, he was not winning them anymore.

In the fall, Hess plans to start a new book on the Vietnam War, during a leave from teaching when he will do research at the Institute for the Study of Culture in Society on campus.

He also served as president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in 1991.

As president-elect of the Ohio Academy of History, Hess will continue to influence the teaching of history. He said the group has been focusing on increasing teaching standards in the public schools, as well as stopping cutbacks in funding for the Ohio Historical Society, an organization concerned with the preservation of archives and historical sites around Ohio.

Hess’ high standards in teaching skills will continue to influence students and teachers around Ohio. His work will continue to educate and inspire historians around the world. Yet, Hess uses the word `work’ lightly, because, he said, “I really don’t consider my job to be work.”

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