People of the Humanities Department
The Legacy of Fay Sawyier | John D. Root, Humanist and Historian
JOHN D. ROOT, HUMANIST AND HISTORIAN
By Ralph Pugh
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IIT Archives is processing the papers of John D. Root (1940-2004), a professor of history who spent his entire academic career at IIT (1969-2001). This collection—which includes many photocopies of documents and publications on English Catholic Modernism that can be found in original form only in European archives—will be made available to the public in early 2009.
It's perhaps not surprising that a humanities professor would posit that "every military man should be a humanist." For John Root these words were more than a philosophical statement and borne of experience as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War. He lived and taught as a humanist, advocating for all IIT faculty and students, and lending his voice to campus issues that he viewed as a challenge to the integrity of the university.
Root received his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame in 1962 and his M.A. from Indiana University in 1964. From 1966-68 he served with the United States Army in Vietnam, attaining the rank of captain and receiving two Bronze Star Medals. Root's strong interest in modern history was given sharper focus by his wartime experiences.
In 1969, Root became an instructor of history at IIT and worked his way up to full professor in 1987. He was chair of the IIT Department of Humanities from 1983-1998, fighting for the retention of humanities programs and staffing in an era of cost cutting at a technology-focused university that would naturally seek to protect its basic posture in the sciences above all else. Yet, Root succeeded in saving the humanities agenda.
His academic specialty was Roman Catholic Modernism in the period 1885-1925, and on its face one would be hard pressed to find a subject more removed from the IIT curriculum. Root spoke to IIT audiences that were appreciative of his insights into the relationship between scientific and religious/spiritual truths. Although he suffered from multiple sclerosis, which prematurely aged and physically limited him in a university context—where being, or at least acting, young is almost a core requirement—his own physical disability made him a strong and convincing advocate for improved physical access at IIT for all who work and study at the university.
Finally, Root's service in Vietnam engaged his already sensitive and observant qualities and created a strong scholar of the American experience. Student-authored evaluation forms in the Root Papers testify to the powerful messages that Root delivered in his classes on the Vietnam War about the roles of power, history, culture, and personal responsibility in the implementation of policy. His publications included dozens of articles, book reviews, and conference papers.
Root was also deeply involved in university affairs beyond the humanities department. He was an officer of the Faculty Council, a pre-law advisor, and served on numerous university committees. He headed the committee that guided the creation of Paul V. Galvin Library in 1985. Root retained an office at IIT following retirement in 2001, and not long after his sudden death in 2004, his papers were transferred directly from his office to the IIT Archives, without being culled either by himself or any family members.
Root's papers provide a comprehensive overview of his entire career and demonstrate his care in documenting his various activities and communications, both within the IIT community and outside (with fellow scholars, particularly in the field of Catholic Modernism studies). The collection will serve as an important primary source for research into IIT's academic and administrative culture in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as for English Catholic Modernism.
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