Former State Historian Dies at 83
January 24, 2000
Albert E. Van Dusen, retired State Historian and professor emeritus of history, died on Nov. 26, after a lengthy illness.
Born in North Carolina, Van Dusen grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., where his father was a professor of sociology. He came to Connecticut as a member of the class of 1938 at Wesleyan University, where he majored in history, and developed a life-long interest in the American Revolution and the contributions of Connecticut to American history. He earned his master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. During World War II he taught in the U.S. Navy V-12 program at Duke University and served in the U.S. Army.
After brief stints as a visiting teacher at Wesleyan University, and at the Pentagon on the history of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department during World War II, Van Dusen joined the Department of History at UConn, where he taught from 1949 to 1983.
During those 34 years, he introduced a series of courses in Connecticut and American Colonial and Revolutionary history, and was instrumental in the establishment of a Ph.D. program. Twelve students completed their Ph.D.s under his direction. In 1964, students voted him one of the five best teachers.
"He made history come alive," says Maureen Berman, '53. "He was easy to talk to and always interested and helpful if he could be."
Allen Ward, professor emeritus of history and long-time colleague of Van Dusen, says "He was widely admired for his gentle humor, legendary field trips, graceful and enthusiastic lectures, matchless integrity and solid professionalism."
Appointed State Historian by Gov. John Lodge in 1952, Van Dusen produced numerous books and articles on Connecticut history, including two volumes of The Public Records of the State of Connecticut and Puritans Against the Wilderness, Connecticut History to 1763. His best known and most influential work was Connecticut, a scholarly yet lavishly illustrated account of the state and its people from the earliest European contacts to 1960. Published in 1961, Connecticut went through five printings and sold more than 33,000 copies.
"Connecticut was his adopted state and he took to it with zeal," says Ward. "He was very instrumental in putting the study of state and local history on a much higher academic level than it had been in the past. He achieved that through meticulous attention to detail and healthy skepticism."
Failing health prevented him from completing the editing and publishing of the papers of Connecticut's Revolutionary War governor, Jonathan Trumbull, a project he worked on with his wife, Wilda, also an historian. But Van Dusen deposited in the University's Special Collections about 35,000 documents collected and copied from many parts of the United States and Europe.
Van Dusen was widely sought after as a speaker by local historical societies throughout Connecticut and New England. He also served the University, the state, the historical profession and the general public in innumerable ways. He chaired a University Senate committee on entrance requirements for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a committee to name the University's buildings, and promoted the establishment of joint University programs with both Sturbridge Village and the Munson Institute at Mystic Seaport. An original member of the Connecticut Historical Commission, he served the commission for 34 years.
He received numerous awards for his years of service, including a Festschrift published by the Association for the Study of Connecticut History, and was the first academic to receive the Award of Distinction from the American Association for State and Local History.
He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Wilda, and a sister.
He was buried at Storrs Burial Ground in a private ceremony conducted by the Rev. Robert Decker, a former Ph.D. student. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Albert E. and Wilda E. Van Dusen Scholarship Fund. Checks should be payable to: UCF-Van Dusen Scholarship, and mailed to Van Dusen Scholarship, Department of History, U-2103, Storrs, CT 06269-2103.