Over the summer my friend, fellow historian of education, and former colleague Barbara Shircliffe died while biking in Asheville, North Carolina. I last saw Barbara at the 2019 conference of the History of Education Society, where she was presenting with Deanna Michael and a graduate student. We met while moving into our offices as new assistant professors at the University of South Florida in August 1996, fellow historians of education.1 I was one of dozens of colleagues who benefited from her support in so many ways, from being a friendly ear to a shrewd and quiet observer of human quirks, especially at a public university. I was overjoyed when she met her husband Clint Perigard, and they lived a few miles from us, reliable neighbors and friends. My first semester as a department chair, my wife and Barbara were hospitalized at the same time, my wife from pneumonia and Barbara after she was hit by a van while cycling. For a few days I shuttled in the afternoons between my office, my wife’s hospital bed, and Barbara’s ICU unit, and was grateful when both of them were released.
As an historian, Barbara is best known for her work on student and teacher desegregation, and her writing is not well-enough recognized in my view. We collaborated in both teaching and scholarship: a group of about half a dozen faculty taught multiple sections of an undergraduate course in schools and society, and most of us were historians. So we shared ideas, planned a common set of assignments over a number of years, celebrated the first-generation students who were often our best students in both undergraduate and graduate classes, and occasionally commiserated about students who disappointed us.
Barbara and I were part of two research projects together: one was a consortium of sociologists and historians studying education reform in Florida — this was led by Kathy Borman and funded by the Spencer Foundation. It led to an edited book along with several articles, and a few road trips around the state for research. This single $150,000 grant supported eight assistant professors along with Kathy and a graduate student, and all eight of us earned tenure during or shortly after the three-year grant.
Barbara, Deirdre Cobb-Roberts, and I also edited a collection that came out the same year, Schools as Imagined Communities, that began with conversations we had around the tortured community politics we saw in the Tampa area. Barbara pushed Deirdre and me to read Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities, and that led to a collection of essays that explored different dimensions of the troubled concept of community. It was one of my most satisfying projects, almost entirely because working with Barbara and Deirdre was so joyful, and I learned so much from our conversations.
But what I cherished the most, and felt the loss of when moving to Arizona, was the ease of walking a few feet between our offices and talking, about any subject at all. Shortly after we met, we discovered that both of our fathers had Parkinson’s, and we supported each other through their illnesses. We laughed about the foibles of anxiously ambitious university administrators, about some of the bad advice we received from tenured colleagues, and about drivers in the Tampa area. Along with several thousands of her students, and dozens of colleagues and so many friends, I will miss her deeply.