Robert Whaples

Professor of Economics

Wake Forest University

Professor Robert Whaples

Hughes Prize Observations

(Published in the Newsletter of the Cliometric Society, October 1999, Vol. 14, No. 3)

Winning the Hughes Prize was quite unexpected. Not suspecting that anything was afoot, I skipped the banquet to spend time visiting family members who live in Maryland. My apologies. My thanks go to my students and to two economic historians who were my teachers in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, both of whom are very well known for their teaching abilities—Claudia Goldin and Bob Margo.

First a brief sketch of my career as a teacher. In graduate school, I never really taught a class. I was Claudia Goldin’s teaching assistant in one class and ran weekly review sections, but I delivered exactly one lecture. Therefore, I didn’t really know what to expect and was quite ill-prepared when I began my duties as an instructor (and later assistant professor) in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I was so nervous that I even forgot which axis was which on the supply-and-demand diagram! Fortunately, after about a week, I decided that I liked teaching. After three years of teaching at UWM, I moved to Wake Forest University’s Department of Economics. During the on-campus interview, I surprised the department by asking to sit in on a lecture to see what Wake Forest students were like in action. I found them to be bright and eager and have been lucky to serve them over the past nine years. (Still, my most challenging and interesting students have been my children.)

Because I am nearer the beginning of my teaching career than the end, my comments on teaching are probably not all that insightful. Nevertheless, here are some "observations."

Finally, I’d like to thank the most influential teacher in my life—my father, Gene Whaples. Under his picture in his high school yearbook is a quote. Most of his friends’ quotes are witty or silly or cryptic, but his quote reads "Education makes the man." He has lived by this motto, teaching children as a 4-H Agent, earning a Ph.D., becoming a college professor and eventually president of the Adult Education Association of the US, and (most importantly, from my point of view) imbuing in his four children the importance of education. Following his example, I became a teacher. I hope that my kids—Thomas, Nina, Becky, Rose, and Charlie—will be the teachers of the next generation. (Check out this link to the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. It includes a great photo of my dad.)