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Retracing Memory

Award-winning LSU Historian Gaines Foster Announced as the 2016 Sternberg Honors Professor

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College has selected LSU Foundation M.J. Foster Professor of History and former Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Gaines Foster for the Erich and Lea Sternberg Honors Professorship. Established in 1996, the professorship is the highest award conferred to faculty by the Ogden Honors College.

“It’s an honor to be selected as the Sternberg Professor,” Foster said. “The Sternberg family has made wonderful contributions to LSU and to the Baton Rouge community, and it’s a privilege to be associated with the name, even in so small a way.

“Professor Foster is known far and wide as a leading scholar of Civil War memory and the post-bellum South.  I’m frankly delighted that our honors students will get to learn from one of the best of the best,” said Ogden Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle.

The award is made possible by the generosity of the late Mrs. Lea Sternberg, a longtime supporter of the Ogden Honors College. Mrs. Sternberg established the award to honor the memory of her husband, Erich Sternberg, and to reflect her respect and support for the mission of the College.

Recipients of the professorship are required to have outstanding academic credentials and qualifications; an excellent teaching record; impeccable moral and ethical character; and to promote trustworthiness, leadership, patriotism, and racial and religious tolerance. In addition, the Sternberg Professor participates in teaching and the general life of the Ogden Honors College during the tenure of the award.

While Foster has been involved with the Ogden Honors College for many years, he is looking forward to teaching his first official Honors College course this spring.

“One of the things that’s so great about the Sternberg Professorship is that it encourages people to be more active. I’ve been on the Honors board for some time, but I haven’t taught an Honors class,” Foster said. “Teachers enjoy students who are bright, engaged and enthusiastic,” he continued. “I think Honors students tend to fit that category quite well.”

Foster has written extensively on such topics as American religion, Southern identity, and the Civil War, but it is his current research on the continuing battle over the memory of the Civil War that has him hooked. Ogden Honors College students will have the opportunity to explore these issues alongside Foster in his class, “The Memory of the Civil War.” The class will look at the different ways people currently think about the Civil War, as well as the development of historical memory over time. Students will also compare the historical record of crucial issues to the way they’re remembered today.

“We’re going to focus on memory, but also how you construct memory, moving toward what it is we really should be thinking about when we think about the Civil War,” Foster said.

The Ogden Honors College plans to bring Foster’s scholarship to a wider audience when he delivers the inaugural Sternberg Lecture later this semester. The intent of the lecture series is to expose students to a wide range of research through the Sternberg Professorship, and to bring a breadth of scholarship to the Ogden Honors College community. The date of the lecture will be announced later this spring.

Foster hopes that this professorship will further cement his ties to the Ogden Honors College and help communicate the College’s value to the LSU community.

“There are three things that I stress when giving advice to incoming LSU students, and the Ogden Honors College speaks to all three,” Foster said. “First, it’s a big institution, and you need intermediary institutions within it to make it more personal. That’s one of the great strengths of the Honors College—it provides that for students. Next, I have colleagues all over campus, specifically those who teach in the Honors College, who will provide enormous amounts of personal attention to students if they ask. Finally, at some point during your time at LSU, you should seek out students who are different from you and get to know them. The Honors College, I think, facilitates that."

The Ogden Honors College, established in 1992, is a vibrant, diverse and prestigious community located at the heart of LSU. The Honors College provides students with a curriculum of rigorous seminar classes, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research, culminating in the Honors Thesis. Its focus on community service, study abroad, internships, and independent research helps today’s high-achieving students become tomorrow’s leaders.  

Story by Allison Howell, Ogden Honors College