Christopher Lehman’s draw to history began as a child. At 13, he took on his first research project after receiving a Christmas gift of a fake newspaper that listed all sorts of events that took place around the time he was born.
“There was a section for the government at the time, and under the president was Richard Nixon,” he said, “But in the space for vice president, the area was blank. I thought it was a typo. The first research project that I took on for myself was to find out if it was really a typo, and it turns out, it wasn’t. I was born in the gap between when Nixon’s first vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned and his replacement, Gerald Ford, was sworn in.”
Since that first research project, Lehman has earned his master’s and doctorate in Afro-American Studies with a concentration in history. His passion for research has continued throughout the years. He is a professor of Ethnic Studies at St. Cloud University in Minnesota.
He has also authored five academic books and a number of articles. His newest book, Slavery’s Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State, is scheduled for publication by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in October. It looks at how the state of Minnesota developed in its early years with money from real estate purchases by enslavers, whose wealth from slave labor allowed them to afford the lands.
“I felt that by writing books and articles, but especially writing books I would have a better chance of being taken more seriously as a professor and as a scholar,” he said. “For me, it is really easy because it is something that I enjoy doing. It is a hobby, what I do in my spare time. The process is something that I make time for,” Lehman said.
Not only has Lehman studied history, but he has also made history by becoming the first African American who graduated from the OSU Honors College in 1995 when he completed degrees in history and Spanish.
“I met the director of the Honors College at the time, Dr. Robert Spurrier, and one of the things I asked him was if there had been anyone African American who had graduated from the Honors College. Dr. Spurrier said no. He thought I could be the first. It was a challenge I accepted,” Lehman said.
He was also honored by being named the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Inductee this year. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most exclusive academic honor society.
“I felt very proud to wear my doctoral robe and give a speech to my fellow inductees. It was just a very proud moment and I am very honored by it,” Lehman said.
Success comes in many forms, but there is no denying that Lehman has had a successful career.
“In terms of my career, success looks like teaching something that my students understand and feel is useful and relevant to their lives. The same goes for my writing. When people read my work, they feel like it is important and that it affects them in ways that they feel like what they read is relevant to them.”
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