Patrick Henry Fellow explores historic familial affects

PatrickHenryTalk_EzraGreenspan_MarkCooley (1)EDITEDBy Blake Batten

Elm Staff Writer

The 2019-2020 Patrick Henry Writing Fellow Dr. Ezra Greenspan is continuing his extensive academic career by dedicating his time to a well-known figure’s unknown history in his biography, “Frederick Douglass’ People: A Family Biography.”

Throughout this year, Dr. Greenspan is further developing and researching his book.

“Dr. Greenspan represents the best in cross disciplinary research,” Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience Deputy Director Dr. Patrick Nugent said. “He is fascinated by writers and the written word but also about the history of the publishing industry or manuscripts to the digital world, and the social context that surrounds its writers.”

The Fellow’s extensive 50-year-long career started in 1969 at Johns Hopkins University. He began his undergraduate degree on the pre-med track. However, after two short days of experience, Dr. Greenspan decided medicine was not where he wanted his life to go. He switched to the humanities track.

This decision changed his life and made all his future ventures possible, according to Dr. Greenspan.

Dr. Greenspan received his PhD at Brown University in 1981, and met his wife around the same time.

His first job was a position at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

According to Dr. Greenspan, he found students in Tel Aviv were quite different from the typical American freshman. Students were more mature, many were army veterans, and many had children, but all were still dedicated to their education.

In 1982, he witnessed the outbreak of the First Lebanon War. While walking home with his wife in Tel Aviv, he had a fear unlike any he had experienced before, according to Dr. Greenspan. This fear made him appreciate the United States for its safety. He soon moved back to the country.

After his tenure at Tel Aviv, Dr. Greenspan worked at the University of South Carolina before moving to Dallas, Texas. There he worked at Southern Methodist University for about a decade.

At Southern Methodist University, he served as chair of the English Department and founded its PhD program.

Currently at Washington College, Dr. Greenspan is writing “the second type of traditional biography.”

Instead of focusing on a singular figure, he is examining the interconnection of Frederick Douglass and the Bailey family, and how Douglass’ life is represented through Maryland.

“Frederick Douglass’ People” is “stepping on the gas” by digging into a lesser known part of Douglass’ history, according to Dr. Greenspan.

Bailey being Douglass’ surname before escaping slavery, the examination of his family is something that many people are not willing to do because of the lack of archives, public interest, and the difficulty of the task, according to Dr. Greenspan.

He wants to achieve a written genealogy of as many members of the Bailey family as possible.

Additionally, Dr. Greenspan will share his research at WC through programs such as his Oct. 15 talk and upcoming course.

“It was interesting hearing about Dr. Greenspan’s work as a biographer, and learning about his work on Frederick Douglass, looking through a different lens rather than the traditional biography,” junior Michael Hershey said. “I really look forward to seeing his research and seeing Douglass’ family unfolding.”

Dr. Greenspan’s course will be a student workshop titled “Life Writing on the Eastern Shore.” It will integrate the reading, researching, and writing of his biography, according to the Starr Center website.

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