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July 8, 2020

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15 minutes with John Lomax

Retired Professor of History, after 30 years at ONU

15 minutes with Professor John Lomax
Interviewed by Liz Gordon-Hancock

John Phillip Lomax was born at St. Catherine’s Mercy Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 9, 1952, as the rampaging Missouri River was just about to crest.  His dad was sandbagging the levee in Council Bluffs as his mom gave birth at St. Catherine’s, high atop the bluff on the Omaha side. 

He received his bachelor's degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1974, his mastor's from the University of Chicago in 1975, and then his doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1987.

He is now Professor of History Emeritus; he retired last year, after working thirty years at Ohio Northern University.

What made you decide to become a history professor?

Mrs. Dolan, my sixth-grade teacher, inspired me to become a history teacher.  When I went off to college, I intended to become a high school history teacher, coach track, marry a cute girl, and have 3-4 children.  That ambition did not survive my first Education course.  I simply could not do anymore professional education after that class.  Meanwhile, the example of my history advisor, Dr. Nancy Craven, got me to thinking that I could teach college.  She helped me to get into the University of Chicago, where a happy memory of Mrs. Dolan inspired me to become a medieval historian, which I have been ever since.

What's the story of how you came to work at ONU?

I took my first college job as a one-year replacement instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1986 as I was finishing up my dissertation.  That led to another one-year replacement position at the University of Texas in 1987.  I applied for a lot of jobs that year, but the only tenure-track job that I got was from Ohio Northern University.  My qualifications fit the job description perfectly.  The University of Texas was ready to offer me another year, but the chair of the department told me, “Tenure-track jobs are not to be disdained.”  I agreed and took the job.  I started in 1988.

How long did you work at ONU? Any highlights of your ONU tenure that you would like to share?

I taught at Ohio Northern from 1988-2018.  I really enjoyed teaching the Historiography class to sophomores and juniors. [This class allows students to pick a subject that interests them, which they research and write an in-depth essay.] It was satisfying and sometimes fun to help students become better researchers and writers.  I liked the one-on-one aspect of the course a lot.  It was also gratifying to have students in all sorts of courses tell me that they never liked history until they took my course.

It was great to get around in connection with my job, whether taking students on field trips to Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, or elsewhere; speaking on scholarly programs in the United States and Europe; visiting our exchange partners in Wales; and doing research at libraries in Italy, Germany, and England. 

I understand as a professor, you are either required or desire to do research. What was the focus of your research? Did you publish any books?

I was and remain an historian of medieval Europe.  Chronologically, my research has focused on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  Geographically, I have focused on Italy and Germany.

I have not published any books.  I have published nine scholarly articles, two book reviews, and about a dozen encyclopedia articles.  A modest production, to be sure, but I would like to publish 3-4 more articles in retirement.  I doubt that I’ll ever publish a book, but who can say?

Favorite historical period or subject? I've been told that you shouldn't research your favorite subject (especially for your Ph.D.) because you'll end up hating it. Did you write your Ph.D. on a favored topic, and do you still love it?

When I went off to the University of Chicago for graduate school, I intended to become a Russian historian, but that notion fell through on my first encounter with the guy who was assigned to teach the first-year seminar in Russian and Soviet history.  He wanted to get rid of me, and he did.  Fortunately, as I was musing on whether I actually wanted to work with that jerk, the spirit of Mrs. Dolan (see above) visited me.  It was as though her hand came down out of a cloud and touched me on the forehead.  Or, alternately, I would say that I was “curiously warmed” by the spirit of Mrs. Dolan and the memory of sixth-grade medieval history, kind of like the conversion experience of John Wesley.  I went over to the meeting of the medieval field committee, where Karl Morrison welcomed me into the field.  I have been a medievalist ever since.

You're currently doing a series of talks at the Ada Public Library. How did the History of War talks come about?

In 2018, Carl Roider, an Ada native and retired professor of history at Louisiana State University, did a series of talks at the Ada Public Library on the First World War.  They were a big hit.  The direction of library, Rhett Grant, asked me to do a series of talks this year.  I suggested a five-part series on the evolution of the practice of war in the West.  He liked the idea.  I have delivered four talks already, on Germanic Tribal Warfare, Chivalric Warfare, The Gunpowder Revolution, and Total War.  The last one will take place this Wednesday, April 3.  The topic will be Asymmetrical or Insurgent Warfare, which will focus on the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

What does a retired Professor of History do?  Got any hobbies?

I don’t do much.  I do the laundry, cook a few meals, sweep the floors, pick up the mail, take care of the dog and the cats, and other miscellaneous household chores.  I have been doing a bit of home improvement and will probably do some more.  I read a lot, mostly novels.  I call people I know and like on the telephone.  I like to garden, but that will have to wait for the weather to get better.  We get around a little, but mostly to visit my daughter Maddy in Columbus and Peggy’s daughter Cate in Chicago.  In mid-April, we will visit my other daughter Hannah in Minnesota, swing by Nebraska to visit my sisters, and stop in Chicago to visit with Cate on the way back to Ohio.  I get up to the law library a few hours a week to work on the scholarly articles that I would like to get into print before I give up on medieval history altogether.  I read to old people on Fridays at the Vancrest assisted living facility in Ada.  I read to children once at the Ada Public Library, but they have not invited me back.  I must not have gone well.  I don’t miss teaching.

Professor Lomax will be giving his final History of War lecture at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3 at the Ada Public Library. This event is free and open to the public.