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After four decades at Carleton, Prowe retires from teaching

<ird Bell Professor of History Diethelm Prowe will retire from his teaching position this fall, bidding farewell to his 42-year education career at Carleton College. Prowe, 67, is currently the longest-serving professor at Carleton.

Born during World War II in Bonn, Germany, Prowe first immigrated to the United States in 1957. After earning his B.A. degree from Kent State University and his Ph.D. from Stanford University, Prowe was recruited in 1966 by Carlton Qualey, then the Chair of the history department. Prowe’s road to Carleton was straightforward. Because of the quality of Carleton’s history department, Prowe did not even consider applying to colleges, despite the infamous “Minnesota weather.” He reckoned that he would get used to the cold. His many years spent at the college suggests that he did.

During the past four decades, Prowe has witnessed a lot of changes at Carleton. When he first came to the college as a European history specialist, the history department was much smaller, about half its current size. He recalls that the department then only had about six professors, compared to fifteen today. The history department was so small that Prowe occasionally had to teach Latin American history classes. Current Associate Dean of College Beverly Nagel was once a student in Prowe’s class on modern Mexico. Also different from today was the historiographical trend in the 1960s. Neither quantitative history nor what Prowe calls “the post-modern fascination” had yet to have significant influence in the department. In contrast, today some students’ senior theses are heavily influenced by these two branches of history.

In his years at Carleton, Prowe has earned recognition for his classes in contemporary political and diplomatic German history, modern European, German, and East-Central European history, and fascism. As one student acclaimed, “Prowe is God! A golden, golden god. The man is…charming and has the nutty professor thing totally down.” Another student agrees and said, “[He is] perhaps not a monotheistic God, but definitely part of the pantheon.”

Prowe’s teaching style is memorable among his former students. Well-known is his ability to grade papers quickly; it rarely takes more than two class days for Prowe to return papers with comments, regardless of the size of the class. Some students attest to this reputation by pointing to a certain 5-page essay assignment in a 50-person class, which was marked and returned to the students within two days. Prowe says that returning graded papers in a timely manner is central to his belief that students should be able to have feedbacks while they still remember what they have written.

Also important to Prowe’s teaching is the heavy reliance on identifications—of people, dates, and events—in his exams. For his class on Europe in the Twentieth Century, for example, Prowe complied a list of about 400 “IDs,” some of which students will have to regurgitate on the final exam. When asked about the rationale behind using identifications, Prowe says, “You have to know your evidence and basic facts before making arguments.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Prowe’s teaching, however, is that he has lived through much of what teaches, including World War II and the Cold War. Born during World War II and having spent much of his life during the Cold War, Prowe admits to forming his own impressions and memories on many issues that he teaches. In fact, Prowe has written many op/ed essays and has done radio interviews to share his views on contemporary events. Since many historians emphasize the importance of remaining emotionally distanced from the material when studying history, Prowe’s temporal proximity to his areas of interests could be problematic to some historians. Nonetheless, Prowe says that this is an issue that he has consciously tried to deal with; as he says, “you go [to the archives] with the impressions that you have. The archives will correct your impressions and assumptions.”

Prowe’s 40 years of teaching did not go uninterrupted. Two years ago, Prowe was diagnosed with colon cancer. However, Prowe did not miss more than a few classes. Despite the immediate side effects of chemotherapy treatment, which he used to have every two weeks, he says that he felt “nothing different from having the flu every other week…taking off completely would have been overreacting…I tried to keep things going.”

As his final year at Carleton comes to a close, Prowe plans to continue to be involved, though in different things. Currently the main editor of German Studies Review, he will edit the journal for three more years. His to-do list also includes less intellectually demanding activities, such as traveling and visiting grandchildren.

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