It was a love of the outdoors that fueled the fire of history for Dr. Edmund Danziger Jr.
|Dr. Edmund Danziger, professor in the Department of History at BGSU, in his office in Williams Hall. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The longtime professor of history at Bowling Green State University retired this month after more than 52 years on the job - 46 of them at BGSU.
"I grew up in New Jersey," he said of his early life. "My dad owned a jewelry company. Had wonderful memories of the Jersey Shore. And we grew up in a suburb that was right next to the woods."
Danziger additionally attended summer camp in Maine as a youngster, "so I kind of got the outdoors in my soul, both the ocean and Maine and the woods."
This love of the outdoors, taking him out into areas of historic interest, brought with it a fascination with the past.
"So I was just filled with history. Both my parents loved it."
In the early 1950s the Danziger family moved to Bloomfield Hills, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, and Danziger worked for the local YMCA leading canoe trips. Originally planning to be a Presbyterian minister, he attended the College of Wooster, where his old interest in history came to the forefront instead.
Graduating in 1960, he taught at an Air Force base in Illinois - "so I've been teaching college since then," he said. "It's been 52 years counting that experience." - and then attended the University of Illinois and earned his master's and doctoral degrees in history. He married his wife, Margaret, now the deputy director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, in 1960.
Long fascinated by the American west, Danziger completed his doctorate with a focus on Indian affairs in the west.
"So my outdoor, western orientation continued."
Danziger came to BGSU in 1966, teaching courses on Ohio history and the American west "and then eventually developed an Indian history course of my own." American history, Ohio history, Indian history, and environmental history continued to be his teaching focuses.
"It's always been the west," he said of what made American history his specific corner of interest, "and by the west I mean the whole west, the western movement story, not the trans-Mississippi west." He was particularly interested in new interpretations of western expansion and re-considerations of the "manifest destiny" doctrine furthered by Frederick Jackson Turner.
This "new western history" emphasized groups who contributed to the western epic, but whose stories hadn't been told before - Indians, Asians, Mexican-Americans, and even the environment itself.
Danziger traces his interest in Indian history to childhood, spurred in part by trips to the Museum of Natural History in New York; films like "Broken Arrow", starring Jimmy Stewart, that showed Indians in a more positive light; and a love of the French and Indian War and fur traders.
That latter interest spurred a new hobby: watercraft - first canoes, and then sailing.
"I guess you can say my hobbies have fed my teaching interests, and my research has very much fed my teaching interests."
Danziger's love of native peoples created opportunities to spend a great deal of time with their cultures, create lasting friendships in their communities, and also to share their cultures with his students, taking them to visit settlements in Detroit and Canada.
Throughout the years, Danziger has continued to enjoy the outdoors, including undertaking a major project: hiking the Appalachian Trail, which covers nearly 2,200 miles through 14 states, from Maine to Georgia.
Taking a cue from Henry David Thoreau that he "didn't want to, when at the end of his life, realize he hadn't really lived at all," Danziger told his wife of the idea. She granted him that he could hike the trail for two or three weeks each summer after classes let out.
"I started in 1985 and it took me until 1999 to finish. And I went away each spring after school was over."
Danziger termed the effort "one of the best decisions I ever made in my life," learning a great deal about himself, and the world he lectured on.
"When you go, and you physically visit the places you teach about, it helps."
He quoted an Indian woman who told him "the gifts that we have, our abilities and special gifts, are given to us by the creator and they are not just meant for us and our own aggrandizement, but they are meant to be shared for the welfare of the community." He said that amongst Indian cultures, the holiest virtue was generosity.
It is this virtue that, in his teaching, he has worked to foster.
Reading and research, he said, is personally enriching but sharing it with others, "it really spreads and it's much more fun."