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George Steckley

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George Steckley

Robert M. & Katherine Arnold Seeley Distinguished Professor of History

At Knox Since: 1973


George Steckley, professor of history at Knox College, has been named the
Robert M. and Katherine Arnold Seeley Distinguished Professor of History
by the College's Board of Trustees, which approved the appointment of Steckley
at its meeting in October 2008.

The Seeley chair represents one of the College's highest honors for faculty, in part because of the selection process. The Faculty Personnel Committee nominates "an individual with a record of distinguished teaching and service to the institution and its students" to the Dean of the College and the President, who, in turn, recommend the nominee to the Board of Trustees.

A member of the Knox College faculty since 1973, Steckley has twice won the Philip Green Wright Prize for excellence in teaching. In 2007 he was awarded the Caterpillar Faculty Achievement Award for outstanding teaching, scholarship and service.

"Professor Steckley is a pillar of the Knox faculty and our academic community - strong, dependable, judicious in his statements and driven by a commitment to liberal education that is second to none on this campus," said Lawrence B. Breitborde, Dean of the College and Vice President for Academic Affairs. "Professor Steckley is held in great respect by colleagues of all generations. His seriousness of purpose and sharpness of intellect are coupled with good humor, humility and humanity."

Steckley is both an award-winning teacher and an internationally-recognized scholar in legal history, whose work has been cited before the U.S. Supreme Court. He received his bachelor's degree from Oberlin College, and his master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago.

Steckley is an expert on the Admiralty Court, England's chief maritime tribunal in the 17th Century. His 2001 article about "bottomry bonds" -- an early form of shipping insurance -- "represents the painstaking work of someone who has spent his life in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty... You learn all kinds of special details that you would never learn from someone just 'surveying' the field," wrote attorney and author William Long. In an earlier article, Steckley, whose research covers hundreds of cases that came before the Admiralty Court, has shown that ordinary mariners -- somewhat surprisingly -- often prevailed in their wage disputes with ship owners.

The Seeley Professorship was created in 1998 by a bequest from the late Robert Arnold Seeley. A native of Freeport, Illinois, who had a distinguished career in insurance with Economy Fire and Casualty Company, Mr. Seeley graduated from Knox in 1951. The Seeley professorship, endowed by a bequest from Mr. Seeley's estate, is named in memory of his parents, Robert M. and Katherine A. Seeley. His mother was a member of the Knox Class of 1922 and a descendant of Sylvanus Ferris, one of the founders of Knox College and the city of Galesburg.

George SteckleyOn being named the Seeley chair
I was very surprised. At Knox, you are surrounded by splendid colleagues, and I wish that I had been on the committee to choose the recipient. But I also feel deeply honored. The named professorships represent generous and essential commitments made by the Seeleys and other Knox donors to preserve the vitality of this special institution.

On teaching
Professor Mikiso Hane expressed what I often feel when he said that the more history he read the more confused he became. But Miki, in his own way, was pointing to the self-education and renewal that all of us in the history department have experienced in our teaching. Each year, we join a new class of Knox students in exploring a variety of texts from the past. Together with these bright young people, we discover both old and new ways of interpretation. We try to tease out some meaning for ourselves and develop our abilities to describe what we think we have found. I dare not speak for the students, but for me, the whole process is always challenging and fascinating.

On the importance of a liberal arts education
Herodotus wisely described life as complicated and unpredictable. And what better preparation for complexity and surprise than four years of study at a place like Knox? Why wouldn't you choose a school where gifted professors from across the curriculum introduce you to questions that folks have been raising for a millenia, to the critical issues and skills of our own times, and to the puzzles that are likely coming? Where better to do this than in an environment where everyone joins in the conversation, where office doors are open, where teaching is the first priority?

View George Steckley's faculty page