On November 11, about 150 people gathered in the Commons Skylight Room to celebrate Ed Orser, who recently retired as chair of the American Studies department.
“It was truly a wonderful event. It exceeded our best expectations,” said Nicole King, assistant professor of American studies, who helped to plan the event along with Kathy Bryan, associate chair of American studies, and Carol Harmon, administrative assistant in American studies.
“The diverse turnout speaks to the reach of Ed’s contributions as a public intellectual of the first notch and his connection with generations of students,” said King, pointing out that alumni from as far back as the 1970’s and from as far away as California came to the event. Orser’s family, UMBC colleagues, and friends from the Catonsville community also came to wish him well.
“I was thrilled—it was a wonderful celebration of where American Studies has been as a department and its bright future,” said Orser.
As a tribute to Orser, the department raised over $27,000 for the Orser Center fund, which will support the newly-formed Orser Center for the Study of Place, Community, and Culture.
“The center promises to provide a basis to sustain initiatives that bring the university and the community together in such important ways,” Orser said.
Orser started at UMBC in 1969 and helped to build the American Studies department into the innovative incubator for creative research that it is today. He served as the department’s chair for 20 years. “When I came to UMBC, it was exciting to be asked, ‘what would you like American Studies here to look like’? That’s a rare opportunity—if also a daunting challenge—for any new faculty member only recently out of graduate school, but I look back at that opportunity as being the right place at the right time,” said Orser.
Orser has published four books and helped to record UMBC’s history for its 30th anniversary. He has served as a historian for the Catonsville and Arbutus communities, recently being featured as the keynote speaker for Catonsville’s 200th anniversary celebration. He plans to continue working on public history projects within those communities. And King is quick to point out that although Orser is now a professor emeritus, his influence will be felt in the department for years to come. “Ed’s commitment to community engagement and public programming offer a model that the department will continue,” she said.