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Roger L. Williams -- 2002 Outstanding Former Faculty
Born in Boulder, Colorado, Roger Lawrence Williams spent several months in Laramie during World War II as part of the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps. While on campus, Williams met and befriended Professor Fred Nussbaum of the Department of History. After earning his A.B. at Colorado College, Williams went on to receive both his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.
He came to the University of Wyoming in 1971 to chair the Department of History and held that position until 1980. One of the first two UW faculty members to be named a “Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,” Williams continued teaching until his retirement in 1988.
A major American historical scholar, Williams published numerous works, including Gaslight and Shadow: The World of Napoleon III; Henri Rochefort, Prince of the Gutter Press; The French Revolution of 1870-1871; The Mortal Napoleon; A Short History of Europe Since Napoleon; and Manners and Murders in the World of Louis-Napoleon. While writing The Horror of Life, Williams reexamined the “literature of despair” by nineteenth century French writers, in which he demonstrated how health factors, in particular diseases like syphilis, shaped those authors’ perspectives.
By the 1980s, Williams’ publishing interests reflected his growing curiosity about botany and plant life. In 1984, he published Aven Nelson of Wyoming, an assessment of the famed UW president, professor, and founder of the Rocky Mountain Herbarium. The study drew upon family papers previously unavailable to outside scholars, and it integrated Williams’s subtle skills at biography, medicine, and botany. This work mirrored Williams’ own enthusiasm for botanical field work.
Although Williams co-published with John Freeman a close-up perspective on local history in How Modernity Came to a Provencal Town; Citizens and Clergy of Grasse, much of Williams’ later scholarship pivoted on French and American botany. In 1997, Kluwer Academic Publishers released the first volume of three in his compilation of the correspondence of Dominique Chaix, an important eighteenth century French botanist. Recently, Williams published Botanophilia in Eighteenth Century France: The Spirit of Enlightenment. This book describes the innovations that enabled botany, in the eighteenth century, to emerge as a science independent of medicine and herbalism.
A significant presence in the world of Botany, Williams has collected plants extensively in southern Wyoming and in northern Colorado, including Rocky Mountain national park. At the park administration’s request, he updated their checklist and worked with their collection. He revised and published Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants, 4th edition, Ruth Ashton Nelson. He also wrote several biographies for taxonomic journals and scholarly articles and books about French botanist and plant classification.
In conclusion of Aven Nelson of Wyoming, Williams wrote, “For great teachers, the best memorials are not those in stone, but those imbedded forever in the minds and hearts of their students” (324). This statement reflects Williams’ influence on many of his own students.
A former student of Williams, Professor Mark Cioc, Adlai E. Stevenson College, noted, “I took a variety of courses from Professor Williams between1973 and 1978 while I attended the University of Wyoming as an undergraduate and graduate student. His courses were of superb quality. The lectures were well-organized and effectively delivered; the readings were engaging and well-tailored to the lecture material; and his exams were sophisticated and fair. A student could not hope for more from a professor.”