Edward K. Spann
Indiana State College
Indiana State University
Edward K. Spann devoted his life
to history. Born in Fairlawn, New
Jersey and raised in New York, he
attended Colorado College between 1948-1950 before transferring to Iona College
to complete his undergraduate education and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in
History with minors in English and Philosophy. He continued his education by
attending New York
University for both his
Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy, graduating in 1957. His graduate work
focused on American history, with minor fields in Latin
America and economics, with special emphasis on monopolies. He
first taught at Hunter College and then at New York University
In 1961, Spann applied for a teaching
position at Indiana State Teachers College
in Terre Haute, Indiana. He accepted an offer to join this
growing institution in the late spring of 1961, noting then that he was
“looking forward to a long and satisfying association with the college.” He
joined the staff at the newly renamed Indiana State College as an Assistant
Professor of History, earning promotions to Associate status in 1965, and a
full Professorship soon thereafter in the spring of 1969.
As a historian, Spann was well known
for his research on New York City
in the 19th and 20th centuries. Building upon his
previous scholarship, he published his first book in 1972. This work, Ideals and Politics: New York Intellectuals and American
Liberalism, 1820-1880, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His second
book, The New Metropolis: New York City, 1840-1857,
was the winner of the New York State Historical Association Manuscript Award in
1977. To these may be added Brotherly Tomorrows: Movements for a
Cooperative Society in America, 1820-1920 (1989); Hopedale: From Commune to Company Town, 1840-1920 (1992); Designing Modern America: The Regional
Planning Association of America and Its Members (1996); Democracy’s Children: The Young Rebels of
the 1960s and the Power of Ideals (2003), and, as part of the American
Crisis Series, Gotham at War: New York
City, 1860-1865 (2002), which has recently been issued in paperback. Just before his death he also completed a
biography of Terre Haute
artist Gilbert Wilson, to be published by the Indiana Historical Society in
Not only a widely published and
respected historian, Spann was also a dedicated teacher. His earliest
evaluations tell of meticulously prepared lectures presented “as if he were
talking extemporaneously.” His classes
earned a reputation for their academic rigor, often described as “demanding but
fair.” Near the end of his career at Indiana State University,
Dr. Spann was still as demanding as ever. As a graduate assistant remembers,
“though demanding, he made it very clear what he expected students to learn. I
learned a lot. It was one of the most rigorous classes I have ever taken… I could teach his class today if I had to (I
still have his notes).” In his role as
mentor, one finds in his own reflections a sense of humility. In his first application for promotion, he
noted that with regard to his services to students, “I have tried to encourage
both students and counselees to discuss their problems with me. Part of this
effort has been directed toward establishing a reputation for receptivity among
students. As yet, this has not worked as well as I would like.” Yet he
routinely received good evaluations from his students, with 82% of his students
rating him superior to above average after the first year of teaching. The recommendation
for promotion to full professor in 1969 stated that “his classes, though
scholarly and demanding, continue to enroll larger than average enrollment.
Numerous voluntary student testimonials attest to his success in the
classroom.” And, on a more personal
level, one graduate student remembers how Dr. Spann let him vent about his
frustrations in another class, noting that this “went a long way in helping me
stay the course and finish my Master of Science.”
Spann also actively engaged in
university service during his long tenure.
He worked to create a pamphlet for high school guidance counselors to
use in promoting history occupations to students, regarded by some of his
colleagues to be “the best thing of its kind that they have seen.” He also
worked with the university’s Social Sciences television programming service.
Dr. Spann sat on numerous committees, and was chairman of the Academic Affairs
Committee that presided over and affirmed the project to build an Indiana State
University campus in Malaysia in
1986. As one of the founding directors
of the Eugene V. Debs Society, he established the Bryant Spann Memorial Award
for the best student essay on Debs’ values (since reconstituted as the Bryant
Spann Scholarship for History majors at ISU).
In addition, Spann was a frequent letter writer to the local newspaper.
Having made Terre Haute his home
from 1961 until his death in 2004, Spann witnessed many changes. He worked for four university presidents; saw
the additions of four academic schools; and, without ever changing jobs, worked
for Indiana State Teachers College, Indiana State College, and Indiana State
University. Perhaps most
profound, however, is the impact Spann had on his fellow colleagues and his
students. Many of his academic works are still in print, and he is still
remembered across the university, in the community, and especially by his
Robin West, interview conducted by Marvin F Susott, 4
Joanne Spann, letter to Steven Stofferahn, 25 May
Christopher Olsen, memorial essay on Edward K. Spann, Perspectives
Photograph from University Archives, Indiana State
University, Terre Haute, IN.
Cloyd Anthony, Indiana State College Appraisal of New Faculty Members for Edward
K. Spann, 14 March 1962.
Cloyd Anthony, Indiana State College Appraisal of New
Faculty Members, Second Year Report for Edward K. Spann, 15 March 1963.
Indiana State College Faculty Record, Edward K Spann, 11 January 1963.
Edward K Spann, Request for Faculty Promotion, 28
Cloyd Anthony recommendation for Promotion of Edward
K. Spann, Indiana
28 February 1964.
Cloyd Anthony Recommendation for Promotion of Edward
Spann, Indiana State University,
19 February 1965
Edward K Spann application for faculty promotion,
Recommendation for Faculty Promotion of Edward Spann,
by Department Chairman and Dean, 5 February 1969.
Edward K Spann’s Appointment as Assistant Professor of
History, signed Richard E Thursfield. 21 March 1961.
RW Holmstedt to Edward K. Spann, regarding appointment
as Assistant Professor of History, 11 April 1961.
Edward K Spann’s Acceptance of Appointment as
Assistant Professor of History, signed Edward K. Spann, 15 April 1961.
Edward K. Spann’s Acceptance of Appointment as
Assistant Professor of History, signed Edward K. Spann, 1 May 1961.
RW Holmstedt to Edward K Spann regarding promotion to
Associate Professor, 21 April 1965.
Edward K. Spann’s Promotion to Professor of History,
signed Alan K Rankin, 17 April 1969.
MW Thomas, Jr. to Edward K. Spann, Notification as
recipient of the New York State Historical Association Manuscript Award, New
York State Historical Association, 27 June 1977.
Herb Rissler, to ISU Vice President Ehrle
Acknowledgment, Pulitzer Prize Nomination of Edward K Spann, 6 July 1977.
Richard G. Landini to Edward Spann, regarding New York
State Historical Association Manuscript Award,
8 July 1977.
Committee for the Malaysia Project, Advisory Report
to the President, 8/3/1986-12/3/1986.
Politics: New York
Intellectuals and American Liberalism, 1820-1880 (SUNY, 1972)
Metropolis: New York City, 1840-1857 (Columbia,
Tomorrows: Movements for a Cooperative Society in America,
1820-1920 (Columbia, 1989)
From Commune to Company Town, 1840-1920 (Ohio
Modern America: The Regional
Planning Association of America
and Its Members (Ohio State, 1996)
War: New York City,
Children: The Young Rebels of the 1960s and the Power of Ideals (SR Books, 2003)