Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The University of West Georgia congratulates Dr. Melvin Steely, professor emeritus, on being one of 12 Georgians honored with the first Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities Oct. 16. Steely is also to be congratulated for winning the Charles E. Beard President's Award on Oct. 4 from the Southeastern Library Association.
The Governor and the Southeastern Library Association both recognized Dr. Steely's efforts to establish Georgia's Political Heritage Program (GPHP).
Governor and Mrs. Deal presented the awards at a ceremony at the Georgia Capital. The Georgia Humanities Council collaborated with several state arts agencies to select the 12 recipients, which also included renowned artist and UWG alumnus Phillip Moulthrop, whose son, Matt, carved the bowls presented to the honorees.
In 2010, the Georgia Library Association presented its Charles Beard Library Advocacy Award to Dr. Steely for his work to establish the GPHP archive and record interviews with Georgia politicians.
“Ingram Library is honored to house the collections Mel has secured for the university,” said Lorene Flanders, UWG dean of libraries.
Dr. Steely recently sat down with University Communications and Marketing and shared the following thoughts on his awards and work with the GPHP.
UCM: In the span of two weeks, you've been recognized by both the Governor of Georgia and the Southeast Library Association for your decades of service in documenting and preserving the papers and recorded memoirs of Georgia political figures. What do those awards mean to you?
MS: I appreciate them very much. Those named for Charles Beard, a longtime friend and colleague here at West Georgia, are especially appreciated. The Governor was generous with his praise of our Political heritage Program and agreed to do an interview with me for the Program.
UCM: You've been a political advisor and historian. What is it about politics and politicians that appeals to you?
MS: Politics is fun...or at least it used to be. I find politicians to be interesting people. I remember taking former Speaker and Lt. Gov. George T. Smith to lunch a decade ago and as we walked from the car he noted, "What is wonderful about all this is that they pay us to do it." I certainly agreed with that statement.
UCM: Who would you say is the most notorious modern day Georgian politician? Who is the most effective? Who is on your radar as the one to watch?
MS: All of them have been declared "notorious" by their opponents. I found most to be dedicated public servants. Gov. Deal and former Speaker Richardson are on my radar now.
UCM: Why is it important to preserve our political history?
MS: It is important for future generations of scholars and researchers to have the material available where the politicians tell their story in their own words. People forget so quickly and these interviews should help bring back what they thought about their time in the political circle and how it impacted on Georgia.
UCM: How important was the Ingram Library to your work?
MS: I could not have built the program without them. Myron House, Charles Beard, Suzanne Durham and especially Lorene Flanders and their staffs really made the program. I collected the material but they made it into a lasting legacy for the people of Georgia.
UCM: How would you characterize social media's effect on politics? Does it make your job as a political historian more challenging?
MS: It has made a massive impact on both campaigning and governing. It has magnified the challenge of collecting data.
UCM: Looking back on your years as a professor, historian and political advisor, what are you most proud of achieving?
MS: The friendships I made and the people I got to know. It has been a wonderful run and is not over yet.
UCM: What's next for you?
MS: I'm still doing some interviews and some writing. I'm also involved with some of the local and national historical societies. Most importantly, I'm spending time with my grandchildren and old friends, drinking coffee and solving the world's problems.