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Ohio University mourns Humanities Professor Emeritus Alan Booth

Alan Booth, the Richard Hamilton-Baker and Hostetler Professor of the Humanities Emeritus and a leading member of faculty from the Alden era to the Glidden age, has died at 89.

Booth, a member of the History Department, excelled at all facets of academic life. He was an internationally recognized scholar of Southern Africa, primarily focused on Swaziland, and the author of five books. He was a distinguished teacher recognized by the undergraduate students as a University Professor and several years later was selected by the Ohio Historical Association as the outstanding History Professor in the state of Ohio.

In the early 1980s he developed a Tier III senior synthesis course as part of the university’s new general education program called: The Culture of Espionage in Novel, Film, and History. The course became the stuff of legend with students juggling schedules to be among those with a coveted seat. Most left the course convinced that Booth had been a CIA agent. 

In every generation of faculty members there are a few who have a wider university impact beyond their contributions to their disciplines and departments.  Booth was one of these at Ohio.  He served as chair of the Faculty Senate in the tumultuous mid-70s and then as chair of the history department. As the head of the Senate, he co-chaired (with Jodi Phillips, the chair of the Board of Trustees) the Presidential Search Committee that brought Charles Ping to campus as the University’s 18th president. Booth regarded that experience as perhaps his most important contribution to Ohio University. As his colleague Steve Miner, Professor of History Emeritus, commented on the myriad aspects of Booth’s career: “Alan was old school in the best possible way.”            

Booth’s undergraduate degree was from Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. from Boston University. At Dartmouth he was a proud member of the rowing team and was later inducted into the Dartmouth Athletic Hall of Fame. Between Dartmouth and Boston University he served in the Navy Air Intelligence from 1956-1960 in an attack squadron flying three megaton nuclear bombs across the Pacific. So, his students almost got it right though he did his spy work from the sky and not on the ground. Booth joined the history faculty in 1966 lured by the University’s highly regarded Center for African Studies where he continued to offer courses throughout his career.

As Professor Miner amusingly remarked about Alan’s research in Africa, “Alan’s record of scholarship on Africa was impressive and achieved against formidable obstacles. I thought my own research in Russia was hard duty but at least I did not have to store my own blood for a research trip.” Katherine Jellison, professor of history and director of the Central Region Humanities Center, remembers Booth as a distinguished teacher and his inviting manner in talking about pedagogy: “When I was a young professor, I frequently sought out Alan for pedagogical advice because of his reputation as a teacher. Those conversations made me a better educator and cemented my treasured decades-long friendship with Alan.”

His long and distinguished career was capped by being named the Richard Hamilton-Baker and Hostetler Professor of the Humanities in the newly founded Charles Ping Institute for the Teaching of the Humanities in 1996 where he worked side-by-side with the man he had helped to select as president more than twenty years before. When he retired in 1999, he followed his wife Margaret Zoller Booth to Bowling Green State University where she was a professor in the College of Education and later the dean of the Graduate College.  He was quickly recruited by the Honors College there where his Espionage course soon became as famous among the undergraduates there as it had been in Athens.  

There will be a celebration of life on Friday April 12 at the Stoneridge Golf Course, 1553 Muirfield Dr., Bowling Green, Ohio. Time to be determined.

February 19, 2024
Staff reports