History Department launches search to replace two beloved professors

Professors Ted DeLaney and T.J. Tallie both brought unique backgrounds and teaching abilities to the department


Newcomb Hall, the first building on the colonnade, is where the history department calls home. Photo by Ben Soullier, ‘19.

Ben Soullier

While professors Theodore “Ted” DeLaney Jr. and T. J. Tallie can never be replicated, the Washington and Lee History Department is currently working to fill the positions of both professors.

After 23 years of educating, DeLaney has decided to retire after this academic year, leaving his dual role in both the history department and Africana studies program open for a new candidate. Professor Tallie decided to leave last year, after three years at Washington and Lee, for an opportunity at the University of San Diego.

The hiring process

Professor Mohamad Kamara, the Africana studies program chair, alongside history professors Barton Myers, David Bello and Michelle Brock form the committees to find candidates to replace both DeLaney and Tallie. History Department Head Molly Michelmore will also be heavily involved in the hiring process.

Michelmore said the department is casting a wide net in their search for new professors. The department has advertised its position availability with several different graduate programs and historical associations to find quality candidates.

“Because Washington and Lee only hires people who have a Ph.D. or who are finishing their dissertations, the pool gets limited in that way to make sure we are hiring the best candidates,” Kamara said.

The committee is focused on narrowing down the list to the best possible candidates for both openings. The committee will travel to Chicago in January to interview between 12 and 15 candidates at the American Historical Association’s annual conference.

After this process, the department will choose the best three or four candidates and bring them to campus for introductions and inter- views. They will also look for student input in the form of test classes taught by the candidates while they are on campus.

“Student input is important for all hires,” Kamara said. “Students will attend presentations by the candidates, the candidates will teach class and students will have the opportunity to go to lunch with the candidates. And the candidates get a tour of Washington and Lee from student tour guides.”

Michelmore said the Africana studies department will be heavily involved in the decision.

“We’re working hard to coordinate with folks in the Africana studies department, with Professor Kamara, with Professor Hill, to make sure both of these candidates know that they fall in both the history department and Africana,” Michelmore said.

The history department is moving in a new direction from just a few years ago. Michelmore discussed a generational shift in the department, beginning with her hire in 2006 as well as Bello’s hire. This shift continued with the hires of Brock, Professor Matt Gildner and Professor Sara Horowitz. These professors are teaching courses that have not traditionally been taught at Washington and Lee, and this is something Michelmore hopes to see continue.

“We want to continue hiring people who will continue to have a positive impact on our students,” Michelmore said.

The future of the Africana studies program will be just as impacted by these hires as the history department. Kamara said it is vital to replace both DeLaney and Tallie with people who can offer similar courses because of the professors’ close relationship to the Africana studies program.

“I’m interested in seeing [the Africana studies program] grow because it is a program that I love and believe in,” Kamara said. “Especially since now we are engaging in these serious conversations about the history of Washington and Lee in relation to African- Americans and in relation to blacks.”

Kamara also noted that whoever is hired will be aware of these conversations and be able to offer their own insight on these topics.

“It comes at a propitious time in the history of the program and the history of Washington and Lee that whoever we hire has the long view, because the university is interested in deepening and expand- ing that conversation about the role of African Americans on this campus historically,” Kamara said. “So the persons that we hire will be aware of those conversations and the significance of telling those stories.”

Replaced, but not replicated

DeLaney is from Lexington and graduated from Washington and Lee in 1985. Before attending the university as a student, he worked as a lab technician in the biology department, beginning in 1963. Twenty years later, he became a full-time student at the age of 40.

After earning a Ph.D. from The College of William & Mary, DeLaney taught at Washington and Lee briefly from 1991 to 1993, and then came back for good in 1995.

Over his 23-year career as a professor at Washington and Lee, DeLaney has taught on the subjects of colonial North America, comparative slavery in the Western Hemisphere, African-American his- tory, civil rights and gay and lesbian history.

With all that DeLaney brings to the table, Michelmore acknowledged how difficult it will be to fill his shoes.

“Professor DeLaney, with his storied history, is certainly an irreplaceable asset,” Michelmore said. “We’re not going to find someone who grew up in Lexington, who worked in the chemistry lab here, who then came back as an adult to get his bachelor’s degree and then came back to teach.”

Michelmore added that it will be a difficult to find a candidate who can teach the breadth of classes DeLaney currently covers.

“He is trained as an early Americanist, but as you probably know, he has taught the history of the American civil rights movement, he has taught institutional history of W&L [and] has taught gay and lesbian history,” Michelmore said. “People simply aren’t trained to do all of those things.”

Tallie received a B.A. and M.A. in the History and Study of Religion from the University of California, San Diego. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in 2014. His expertise was in South African history, specifically the Apartheid period, and colonialism. Tallie also taught Zulu as a spring term class and was the only professor in the Africana Studies program equipped to teach that language and culture course.

Michelmore discussed how it would be particularly hard to find someone that will be as popular with students as Tallie was.

“I think they broke the mold when they made Professor Tallie,” Michelmore said. “We’re looking for someone who replicates his popularity with students, who replicates his draw with students out- side of the department.”

She credited Tallie for his ability to offer unique courses to all students.

“We certainly saw new students, different kinds of students taking courses on not only African history, but also queer and gender his- tory,” Michelmore said. “We are not committed to replicating those areas of emphasis in this search, but we are committed to find some- one who can widen the appeal, as well as the types of courses that the department can offer.”