Iconoclastic history professor John Sharpless retires

Victoria Davis:

UW-Madison is a “liberal bubble,” according to long-time history professor John Sharpless.

“Openly disagreeing with people here is like pooping in the pool,” says Sharpless. “They turn around and give you this dagger look. I had Republican students in my classes who said they white-knuckled their way through discussions in other classes. They never felt they could say anything.”

For 43 years, Sharpless taught history to generations of UW students, some having experienced the first moon landing, Watergate and Ronald Reagan’s election. On March 26, UW’s Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy and the History Department will honor the recently retired professor, his teachings and his leadership, at a private party.

“We have much to learn from his multifaceted career,” Richard Avramenko, the center’s co-director, writes in an email.

Sharpless taught American history, specializing in statistical methods, comparative demography, and exploration. Political science was never part of his official syllabus, but since 1975, his classroom has been a space for safe political discussions between both left and right leaning students.