Dr. Engs, History

Dr. Robert F. Engs, professor emeritus of history in the School of Arts & Sciences, passed away January 14, 2013, at age 69.

After earning a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1965, where he was one of only a handful of African American students, Dr. Engs received his PhD in history from Yale University in 1972. While at Princeton, he participated in founding of the Princeton Summer Studies Program, an intensive college preparatory program for minority and disadvantaged New Jersey public high school students, which became the model for the Upward Bound programs of the late 1960s.

Dr. Engs began his career at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 when he was appointed assistant professor of history. A year after joining the faculty, Provost Eliot Stellar appointed him as the director for minority faculty recruitment. He is credited for playing a distinct role in enhancing the presence of minorities in both the faculty and student bodies at the University. He was promoted to associate professor in 1979 and to full professor in 2000. He became emeritus in 2010.

Dr. Engs was also actively involved in the administration of the department of history. He served as chair of the undergraduate program from 1987-1992 and again in 2000 as well as director of the American History Honors Seminar. His areas of concentration in teaching were African American History, Civil War and Reconstruction, and History of the United States South. He directed the US History Honors Seminar three times and taught the North American History Survey in the Lauder Institute of the Wharton School. He also was a former member of the Academic Freedom and Responsibility Committee of the Faculty Senate. "He is remembered by students as a caring teacher and generous mentor," said Dr. Beth S. Wenger, chair of the history department.

Dr. Engs' research focused on the postbellum era, specifically the responses of the freed people and white Southerners to emancipation. He had a special interest in the roles of education, religion and of missionaries in the emancipation process. His first two books, Freedom's First Generation: Black Hampton, Va., 1861-1890 and Educating the Disfranchised and Disinherited; Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Hampton Institute, 1839-1893 reflect that focus. Edited with Randall Miller, The Birth of the Grand Old Party, focuses on the early years of the Republican Party. Dr. Engs also wrote on slavery, the emancipation process during the Civil War, postbellum Southern politics and economics, the Gilded Age, on American missionary work at home and abroad, and on the civil rights era. His most recent book was Their Patriotic Duty: The Civil War Letters of the Evans Family of Brown County, Ohio. He also developed an electronic archive on the middle 19th century entitled, "The Crisis of the Union Archives" (http://sceti.library.upenn.edu/sceti/civilwar/) for the Penn Library.

Dr. Engs is a former Guggenheim Fellow and William Penn Fellow. He was a recipient of the 1988 Lindback Awards for Distinguished Teaching. He directed the president's forum, "The Enduring Significance of Race," at Penn, and served as co-chair of the Afro-American Studies Program. He was co-developer of the exhibit and symposium sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia on "The Origins of the Republican Party" in 2000.

While teaching at Penn, Dr. Engs regularly lectured at historically black colleges and for local community organizations. He also worked with public schools in their development of curriculum on African American history and social studies. He taught Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses developed by Penn's Netter Center for Community Partnerships. ABCS students and faculty work with West Philadelphia public schools, local communities of faith and community organizations to solve critical campus and community issues in a variety of areas related to the environment, health, arts and education.

From 2008-2010, Dr. Engs taught courses at The College of William and Mary as the Visiting J.P. Harrison Professor of History, where he worked on the Lemon Project, which revisits the school's history with the institution of slavery.

Dr. Engs is survived by his son, Robert Nathaniel Engs II; and his mother, Myrtle Coger Engs.

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