RobertElderWhere are you from?

I grew up in Wichita, Kan., where my family owned a corrugated box manufacturing business (few children are taught the distinction between corrugated and cardboard paper as part of their early education, but I can tell you anything you want to know). I have seven siblings, and we lived on a farm outside of town where we grew up riding horses, hunting, and engaging in any other dangerous activity we could get away with. My brother and sister run an organic farm there now. I was homeschooled until 7th grade, when I started attending a small, private liberal arts school founded by my uncle and now run by my mother.

What are your teaching and research interests?

Partly because my father is from Chattanooga, Tenn., I ended up going to college in the South, where I became fascinated with the history of a region that is distinct from the the rest of the country. Mostly, I was struck by how much history mattered in the South. People were still arguing about the Civil War, and the history of slavery was an ever-present shadow. In graduate school I wrote my dissertation on the relationship between honor culture and evangelical Christianity in the antebellum South. I’m currently finishing up a book on that topic and starting a new project on South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, one of the architects of southern secession. Historian David Potter once called Calhoun “the most majestic champion of error since Milton’s Satan,” and as anyone who’s ever read Milton’sParadise Lost knows, Satan is the most interesting character in the poem. During my time as a Lilly Fellow at Valpo and elsewhere I’ve taught a variety of classes on early American history, American religious history, slavery, the Civil War, and the South. I look forward to expanding that repertoire in the future.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I used to have hobbies, and then I had children. Between work and family, there’s not a lot of time for much else these days, but I have dim memories of summers spent in New Mexico fly fishing and I occasionally read something not related to work. Some of my favorite authors are Marilynne Robinson, Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, and E.M. Forster. I also still go back to Kansas and hunt pheasant at least once a year, although walking twelve miles a day in the cold without much to show for it might strike most people as prima facie evidence of a lack of mental acuity rather than a hobby.

What are you most looking forward to about being back at Valpo?

My first two years at Valpo as part of the Lilly Fellows Program were a wonderful experience. Valpo is a very special place, a true community where students and faculty live and work and learn together. Before coming to Valpo I had never experienced that kind of an atmosphere. In particular, I appreciate how the Lutheran identity of the place shapes the sorts of questions I can ask in the classroom and gives the school a framework to understand why we do what we do and why it matters. I also had some fantastic students at Valpo and we made some great friends during our time there. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting.
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