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History Peeps: Brian M. Linn, Ralph R. Thomas Professor in Liberal Arts

Professor Brian Linn believes history is made—or at least written—by those who show up. “Even if it’s 500 words a day, moving the project forward—even if you know those 500 words are all going to get thrown away the next day. Just keeping at it, that’s how you write books,” he says.

Born in Hawaii before it became the 50th state, Dr. Linn learned the value of hard work at an early age. At 16, he took a job with a construction company, drilling 40-foot holes for core samples to determine construction feasibility in Hawaii’s volcanic terrain. In the process he earned a union card and learned self-discipline. Dr. Linn reflects that the job instilled in him “a work ethic and an understanding that most of the job is just showing up.”

Dr. Linn attributes his success to his wife, Diane. The two married just before he began graduate school in 1979. Dr. Linn states emphatically, “She’s more responsible for my career than anyone else.” Diane’s work as a licensed clinical social worker allowed Dr. Linn to pursue his graduate studies debt-free. Since then, Diane has also been his “first and best editor,” from articles to books.

Of his academic work, Dr. Linn says he is most proud of writing the history of the U.S. Philippine War, though he privately admits that it is his students who really make him smile. “There are some graduate students out there that are a source of great pride,” he says, adding with a wry grin, “Though I wouldn’t want to tell them that.” Dr. Linn reflects, “I’ve had a lot of fun doing this stuff.”

To what historical figure he would like to say “Howdy” to, given the chance? Dr. Linn answers the question with a story. “There’s a guy named William Lassiter that no one’s ever heard of,” he begins. Lassiter was a West Point graduate and artillery officer who served in every conflict from the Spanish-American War to World War II, yet “never bought into any of the nonsense,” Dr. Linn says with amusement and admiration. It fits that Brian Linn would want to meet someone who thinks critically about the world—someone practical, hard-working, and wise.

(Jennifer Wells ’24)