Miller legacy: understanding history

Dr. John Miller enjoys a moment entertaining students. Miller retired at the end of the spring trimester after more than 20 years of service teaching history at USAO.

Miller legacy: understanding history



Dr. John Miller didn’t just teach history. He lived it.

After more than 20 years of service as a professor of history, Dr. John Miller retired from the University of Science and Arts at the end of the spring 2011 trimester.


A native of Colorado, Miller began his education at Mesa State in Grand Junction before transferring to the University of Colorado. Miller, already interested in history and politics, spent his summers working for Congressman Wayne Aspinall.


“It was something of a schizophrenic existence,” Miller notes.


“The Congressman, like so many politicians of his era, was deeply invested into his defense of our involvement in the Vietnam War and, as his aide, I had to identify to some extent with those arguments. Then I would return to school where all my peers were busy trying to bring it to an end through protests.”


This dissonance was never clearer than when Miller, by this time a graduate student at Ohio State, found himself caught in the middle of a violent struggle between the protesting student body and a nervous battalion of National Guardsmen ordered to keep the peace.


A mere four days before the infamous shootings at Kent State, Miller and his then very pregnant wife, Letty, were forced to flee the campus at Columbus when the standoff turned violent and tear gas canisters were launched to disperse the crowds.


This diverse range of experiences instilled in Miller a sense of urgency to teach politics and history throughout his career.


“My interest in history has less to do with memorizing dates and battles and more to do with trying to understand the strengths and weaknesses of particular individuals that caused things to go a particular way,” Miller observed.


“The course of events is never a foregone conclusion. Things don’t just happen. People make them happen.”


Miller began his teaching career as an instructor of history at Purdue University in 1972. Following the receipt of his Ph.D. in 1975, Miller was promoted to assistant professor of history at Purdue. In 1976, he accepted a position as chairman of the social sciences department at Friendship College in Rock Hill, South Carolina.


In 1978, he returned to Indiana as project director at the Indiana Historical Society.


In 1988, Miller assumed the duties of research coordinator and associate professor of history at Indiana Wesleyan University.


Arriving at USAO in 1990, Miller took over as the chair for the business and social sciences division with a storied career as an educator and historian already under his belt.


Miller found USAO’s interdisciplinary approach to a liberal arts education a perfect fit for his teaching style.


“I like to give students the facts and have them to draw and defend their own conclusions,” Miller explained.


“The liberal arts approach to education is a vital tool for students to focus their thinking as well as develop the necessary critical skills to transform research into meaningful analysis.”


On the basis of his engaging and often humorous lecturing style, Miller received the USAO Regents Award for Superior Teaching three times.


“It has been a privilege to work alongside John over the years,” said Dr. Dex Marble, vice president of academic affairs.


“He is an engaging lecturer, a consummate storyteller and an historian of the highest merit. His presence will be sorely missed and we honor him for his decades of service to USAO.”


When pressed on his favorite courses to teach, Miller indicated that military history and American presidents held a special place in his heart. His favorite lecture to deliver was a discussion of the historical symbols hidden at the heart of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.


“There’s just something heartwarming about informing young students that a childhood classic is really an allegory about monetary policy in the late 19th century,” Miller quipped.


Miller and his wife will move back to Colorado this summer to be closer to family and, in time, begin to plan their travels abroad.