ALAN GRUBB IS CELEBRATING 51 years of teaching history at Clemson. Dozens of past and present students and faculty saluted Grubb during an annual gathering of history alumni at Hardin Hall in September. Grubb, the longest-serving current professor on campus, regaled the crowd with anecdotes from his career.
In 1967, when Grubb arrived on campus, the student population was one-third the size it is today. Few women attended the University. The Vietnam conflict was raging; no one had stepped foot on the moon; and the Beatles were still together.
Grubb, 24 at the time, walked into Hardin Hall for an interview in February 1967. He began teaching that August and has spent his entire teaching career in Hardin, the oldest building on campus. He said he never imagined he’d be at Clemson more than a few years.
“A lot of us came here, and we weren’t married,” Grubb said. “Clemson was not the greatest place to be a bachelor. Most of the faculty were married. It was a common statement among young professors, ‘We won’t be here very long.’”
Half a century later, Grubb teaches a variety of courses on European intellectual history, World War I, modern France and the age of absolutism.
Born in Washington, D.C., Grubb credits the nation’s capital with fostering his interest in history. “Most of my youth, I was aiming to be a lawyer, but being around so many historical sites brought me to history. Washington, D.C., was kind of a small, Southern town. I delivered prescriptions to the Supreme Court, to Congress, to the Library of Congress. It was a very small world. Now it’s a pricey world.”
Grubb studied pre-law, then English, but he eventually earned his undergraduate degree in history at Washington and Lee University. After earning his master’s and doctorate in history from Columbia University, he received a teaching offer from Clemson. When Grubb was hired to teach history, the Department of History didn’t exist. The Department of Social Sciences encompassed history, political science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and religion.
Since then, Grubb has seen a lot of changes across campus.
“Historians talk about tradition a lot, but most traditions are actually pretty new,” he said. “All the things you think have been around forever are recently invented.
“There was no Tiger Paw flag,” Grubb said. “There was a Dixie flag. That disappeared in the 1970s. There were some protests about the (Confederate) flag, and it went away, which was kind of neat. There was also a guy, sort of a mascot, who went around as a Southern gentleman. He disappeared, too.”
Clemson had become a co-educational, civilian college 12 years before Grubb’s arrival. At the time, 6,305 undergraduates attended Clemson. Now, undergraduate enrollment is 19,402.
In his courses, Grubb often assigns popular history texts — such as the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning Barbara Tuchman — rather than academic histories. “Good popular historians keep history alive,” he said. “So many historians are good writers.”
After 51 years of teaching, Grubb has no plans to retire. The students keep him going, he said, particularly the occasional ones who discover a new love for history.
“I find the classroom exciting,” he said. “I’ve had students who say they hated history, but by the end of the semester, they come to love it. It’s exciting when you make connections like that. You don’t set out to make converts, but there are people who write me years later and tell me they remember my lectures.
“I don’t even remember my lectures sometimes,” Grubb added with a laugh. “But they remember them.”