Timothy Huebner

Associate Provost, Academic Affairs at Rhodes College

Timothy Huebner

Timothy Huebner

Associate Provost, Academic Affairs at Rhodes College

Biography

Teaching and Writing:
Confronting our Past without Losing Faith in America

As I finish my twenty-sixth year at Rhodes, I continue to live out my calling to teach and write about the history of the United States.

My work as a historian reflects my deep belief in the need for Americans to confront the difficult and disturbing aspects of our past. As one who has spent his career studying (and living in) the American South, I believe that historians need to reveal and explain, with honesty and clarity, the injustice and oppression that has played such a part in the history of the region--the dehumanization associated with slavery during the antebellum period, as well as the racial intimidation and violence that prevailed during the era of Jim Crow. That’s why I teach a range of courses on the South and the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, and it’s why I have written about such topics as the law of slavery, the pro-slavery ideology of nineteenth-century southern jurists, and the Dred Scott decision. And it’s why my students and I worked in 2017-2018 to erect a new marker at the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s antebellum slave mart in Memphis, an effort that garnered the attention of a local filmmaker as well as the national media. We must confront the horrific aspects of our past.

At the same time, my work also rests on the assumption that American ideals and institutions, as imperfect as they have been in practice, still offer hope for the preservation and advancement of liberty. I offer courses on the history of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the history of the Supreme Court, and in these classes I challenge my students to critically examine how the definition of liberty has evolved and expanded over time. My latest book, Liberty and Union: The Civil War Era and American Constitutionalism specifically shows how African Americans advocated an agenda of freedom during wartime—how they sought not just emancipation, but the full panoply of rights they believed they were guaranteed under the Declaration of Independence. These continued attempts to claim America’s heritage of liberty—I call it “black constitutionalism”—helped to bring about a constitutional revolution. In the 1859 case Ableman v. Booth, the Supreme Court upheld in nationalistic language the rights of slaveholders to recapture fugitive slaves. Who could have imagined then that within a dozen years the full force of the federal government would be used for the opposite purpose—to uphold the voting rights of African Americans, those who had been described in the Dred Scott decision as having “no rights” at all? In this sense, African Americans helped create a new discourse of rights—one that focused not on the property rights of slaveholders but on the human rights of formerly enslaved people.

Such moments of constitutional change, whether through popular mobilization, constitutional amendment, or judicial decision, show that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, can, in Frederick Douglass’s words, “give us a platform broad enough, and strong enough, to support the most comprehensive plans for the freedom and elevation of all the people of this country.” In other words, I think it’s possible for us as a nation to confront the ugliness of our past without losing faith in America.

Teaching and writing are mutually reinforcing. My teaching reflects my enthusiasm for and commitment to examining this ugly, complicated, and triumphant story of the American experience. In 2004, I won the Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching at Rhodes, and that same year the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named me the Tennessee Professor of the Year. In 2011, my “Supreme Court in U.S. History” class was featured on “Lectures in History,” American History TV, C-SPAN 3, viewable at www.cspan.org. My writing, I hope, reflects this passion as well, as I attempt to address not only my scholarly peers but also a public audience. Over the years, my pieces have appeared in the New York Times, The Hill, and the Washington Post, as well as the Memphis Commercial Appeal. I’ve talked about my research at the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Constitution Center, and the American Civil War Museum.

Wherever I’m working—in the classroom, in the archives, or on the lecture circuit—I believe in deepening the public’s historical consciousness.

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Chief Information Officer at Rhodes College

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Professor of Psychology & Chair of Educational Studies, Dean for Curricular Development at Rhodes College

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Dean of Students at Rhodes College

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Dean of Student Success at Rhodes College

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Senior Director of Development Initiatives & Advancement Systems at Rhodes College

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Vice President for Finance & Business Affairs/Comptroller at Rhodes College

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Director, Counseling Center at Rhodes College

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Associate Professor, Chair of Modern Languages & Literatures, Head of Section-French at Rhodes College

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Assistant Professor of Music, Director of the Mike Curb Institute for Music at Rhodes College

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Director of Academic & Learning Resources, Student Life at Rhodes College

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Timothy Huebner
Associate Provost, Academic Affairs at Rhodes College
Career History
Associate Provost, Academic Affairs
Current

Founded in 1848, Rhodes College provides an outstanding liberal-arts education. The Rhodes experience combines the best of the classroom and the real world—through internships, service, research and other opportunities in Memphis and far beyond. Students learn, play and serve others with a determination to grow personally and to improve the quality of life within their communities. The collegiate-gothic campus sits on a 100-acre, wooded site in the heart of historic Memphis. In this beautiful, supportive environment, our students and faculty comprise a community unmatched in its dedication to learning and a life of honor both on and off campus. In fact, for more than a century, Rhodes has placed its Honor System at the forefront of student life

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Voting Member, Information Services Governance Committee
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Timothy Huebner is affiliated with Rhodes College, Rhodes College

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