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Thaddeus Russell ’89

Interviewed By: 
Christian Feuerstein '94

Thaddeus Russell Thaddeus Russell ’89 is a historian, cultural critic and the author of the forthcoming A Renegade History of the United States, to be published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster (available for pre-order on Amazon.com). He teaches American history and cultural studies at Occidental College and has taught history, American Studies and the history of philosophy at Columbia University, Barnard College, the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College.

Russell’s first book, Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2001. He has written for The Daily Beast, New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and his scholarly essays have been published in American Quarterly and The Columbia History of Post-World War II America. Russell has also appeared on the History Channel and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? I was a pothead with a C average, mediocre SAT scores, and no knowledge about colleges. My high school friend, Tracy Patterson, told me about Antioch after her first year there. I visited, applied, showed up, and fell in love with it. My major was history/philosophy, I think.

What’s your favorite memory of being at Antioch College? Second week of my first quarter. Walking across the front lawn to watch The Antioch Adventure in McGregor. Massive cumulus clouds filling the sky. Bursts of lightning illuminating them from within. Being from the Pacific coast, I had never seen an electrical storm. It felt like my history was about to be written.

Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? Al Denman was the first teacher who took an interest in me and really paid attention to my ideas, my speaking and my writing. He taught me how to be a student and inspired me to be a teacher.

But Al wasn’t the only one. I doubt that I would have become an Ivy League professor and author of two books had I not gone to Antioch. Bob Fogarty, James Daraja, Frank Adler, Lester Lee, George Geiger, and Tom Martin all challenged me and encouraged me to be an intellectual. They gave me a wonderful gift.

If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? A statue of Ralph O’Connell, my favorite hippie, to be placed next to the Horace Mann monument.

Why do you donate to Antioch College? Because I’m sentimental and because the place allowed me to revolutionize my life.

On Antioch College and its inspiration for A Renegade History of the United States: A Renegade History of the United States is an ambitious book. It is intended to replace Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States – which I first read in the Olive Kettering Library – as the leading alternative survey of American history. In many ways, the book is a love letter to Antiochians. For those of us who spent time in Yellow Springs, I want the book to be a celebration of part of our shared culture and a challenge to some of our thinking...

What I found at Antioch was the starkest form of the American cultural contradiction that is the theme of A Renegade History. It was where I could see most clearly the fight between the community and the individual, responsibility and freedom, sacrifice and pleasure. As we reinvent Antioch, I would like to begin a discussion about the costs of communal repression and the benefits of letting go.