“No disrespect to accounting majors,” Stephanie Moore says, “but History Professor O. Vernon Burton changed my trajectory from uninspired accountant to inspired historian.”
Moore graduated from Illinois with a dual degree — one in her major before meeting her most inspiring faculty member (economics), one-post Professor Burton (history).
She tries to have that same impact on her own students now — at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she’s assistant dean of the arts.
“Who knew that your life could change with just a three-week intersession course with Professor Burton?” she says. “I have a feeling it happened all the time with Professor Burton's students, as his infectious enthusiasm for social history offered a view into the past that palpitated with the issues of the present.
“Indeed, Professor Burton was at this time serving as an expert witness for the American Civil Liberties Union, providing testimony supporting the ACLU's legal claim that South Carolina was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and depriving African American citizens of their right to vote.
“While Professor Burton is now well known for serving as director of the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, in the 1980s, he ran his regression analysis on racial bloc voting for his cases by feeding punch cards into a refrigerator-sized computer. Well, he hired me as his research assistant and I fed them into that computer in some campus building basement.
“Sound boring? Nothing was ever boring with Professor Burton because it was always clear how much it mattered, whether it was the history you were studying or the cards that you were feeding, one by one.”