Civil War historian John F. Marszalek's influence on Mississippi State students stretches over almost four decades.
Six of his former graduate students recently gathered for a panel discussion at the university to personally thank him.
MSU alumni Michael B. Ballard, Mark R. Cheathem, Thomas D. Cockrell, Stephen S. Michot, Horace Nash, and Timothy B. Smith--all holders of doctorates in history--celebrated Marszalek's guidance and encouragement as part of the 2013 John F. and Jeanne A. Marszalek Library Fund and Lecture Series.
The six recently published a book, "Of Times and Race: Essays Inspired by John F. Marszalek," in which each historian contributed a chapter, as did fellow contributors James Scott Humphreys and Edna Greene Medford, who were unable to attend.
All agreed their scholarly and professional successes stemmed from Marszalek's leadership.
Though retired as a Giles Distinguished Professor of History, Marszalek continues to work at MSU as executive director and managing editor of the U.S. Grant Association, owner of the MSU-based Grant Presidential Collection.
Ballard, MSU's recently retired archivist and author of several Civil War books, is co-editor of the book.
"One of the things that John Marszalek pounded into us throughout our graduate years: You cannot study any segment of American history and leave out race," Ballard recalled. "It won't make any sense. It's always there on the surface or underneath; sometimes it's more exposed than others, but it's always there."
Cheathem, who edited the essays alongside Ballard, stressed how Marszalek always pushed his students to reach their full potential, a trait that Cheathem said he has continued with his own students.
"The person I come back to when I think about how to influence my students is John," he said. "I think of other mentors who also influenced me, but John, professionally and personally, influenced me most. I appreciate what he and Jeanne have done as far as investing in my life."
Cockrell and Michot echoed Cheathem's sentiments that Marszalek invested in the lives of his students; what they learned from Marszalek gave them the academic tools to be successful researchers and historians, they said.
Nash and Smith said they chose to attend MSU's graduate program in history specifically because of Marszalek. They agreed that, as a celebrated and well-recognized historian, Marszalek would be the expert who could guide them to similar prestige. While neither expected him to take so close a personal interest in each of them as individuals, they expressed appreciation that he did.
"Just hearing them just briefly, you can understand why Jeanne and I are so proud of them and what they've accomplished," Marszalek said following their remarks. "We'll always be able to say that we knew them when. And, we always hope we've played a role in their lives: what they've become, what they've accomplished, and more importantly, what still lies ahead of them.
"They've made their major professor, his wife and their department very proud of what they've achieved," Marszalek added.
Honoring the lives and contributions of the historian and his wife, the Marszalek Lecture Series was established in 2002 by MSU's Mitchell Memorial Library. Jeanne Marszalek has been an influential leader in local politics and race relations.
The Marszalek Lecture Series works to encourage the use of primary source materials related to American history, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jacksonian America, and race relations. The companion Marszalek Library Fund is used to purchased such materials for the benefit of current and future students.
All proceeds from the book, available through major retail outlets across the nation, go to the lecture series.