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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

History professor known for unparalleled knowledge

Sheila Skemp, the Clare Leslie Marquette Professor of American History and Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, has been an integral part of the Department of History for 30 years.

“I teach everything from the survey in American history to specialized classes at the graduate level,” Skemp said. “At the 300 level, the courses I teach are Colonial America, American Revolution, Masculinities and Femininities in American History, and — my personal favorite — The American Dream.”

Skemp said she enjoys working with students and enlightening their minds.

“I love the interaction with students — especially when I can see that something we’ve talked about has given students an insight that makes them think about their lives, their perspectives on the world in a slightly different way,” Skemp said.

Skemp’s students notice her dedication in the classroom.

“So many things about Dr. Skemp make her a fantastic professor,” said Tyler Clemons, a former student. “Her lectures are infused with her unparalleled knowledge of American history along with her characteristic sense of humor and wit to make sure that students not only learn the material but also enjoy the process. What sets Dr. Skemp apart most of all, however, is her genuine concern for her students and her sincere desire to see them succeed. From serving as my senior thesis adviser to writing recommendation letters for me for law school, Dr. Skemp has never hesitated to help me in any way she could. For that — and for her friendship — I will forever consider her my beloved professor and my friend.”

Skemp is slated to retire in 2013. When discussing her favorite memory at the university, she has a hard time choosing just one.

“There are just too many,” Skemp said. “I’ve taught here for over 30 years and taught elsewhere, as well. When you’ve been in the classroom that long, and have taught as many students as I have, the number of ‘excellent moments’ is bound to expand. In some cases I’ve been able to help students out in their personal lives. In other cases, I have enjoyed watching them expand their intellectual horizons. The ‘light bulb moments’ are always the best.”

Joe Ward, chair of the history department, praises Skemp for her teaching ability.

“These days, the popular media tell us that universities must embrace ‘strategic dynamism’ by replacing methods proven successful over time with those that seem attractive largely because they seem innovative,” he said. “Let’s hope that those drawn to such fads will examine why Sheila Skemp has proven herself one of the most distinguished teachers, scholars and colleagues at our university. They will see that there is no substitute for patience, love of learning and a deep commitment to engaging students as individuals seeking knowledge rather than consumers of an ill-defined product.”

After retirement, Skemp plans on staying in Oxford.

“I hope to do a great deal of traveling, particularly in the ‘off season’ while everyone else is at work,” she said.

A native of Illinois, Skemp did her undergraduate work in history at the University of Montana and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in history at the University of Iowa. She joined the faculty at UM in 1980 and served for two years as acting director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies.