Libraries receives Wunder's papers, library

John Wunder
John Wunder

John Wunder, long-time UNL history professor and former director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and Hitchcock Professor of Journalism, donated his books on legal history to the Marvin and Virginia Schmid Law Library and his personal library and papers to the University Archives.

Mary Ellen Ducey, university archivist, described Wunder's collections as encapsulating his entire career and significantly affecting historical research in diverse areas that comprise the history of the Great Plains, Plains Indians and the American West. His personal papers include his research, correspondence, teaching materials and manuscript drafts.

"Wunder's papers add strength to our already strong Great Plains regional collection and provide a legacy for students of Western and Great Plains history following in his footsteps," Ducey said. "Wunder's papers show us his legacy in two ways: one, it leaves copious amounts of research on various ethnic groups, the West, legal history, etc. for future scholars to use; and second, it demonstrates how much of an influence he had on the development of UNL students into historians."

Wunder's papers span his entire career. From 1974 until his recent retirement, Wunder taught history of the American West, Native America, the Great Plains, Colonial America and U.S. legal history. In 1988, he came to UNL as director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and served in that capacity from 1988-97. From 1990-93, he was also associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During his career, Wunder was president of the Western History Association, the UNL Faculty Senate, and the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society. Wunder received many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization of Native American Scholars in 2002.

Wunder has written and edited 19 books, more than 50 articles, given numerous international and national presentations, held visiting endowed chairs at the University of New Mexico and University of Helsinki in Finland, where he held the Bicentennial Fulbright professorship; consulted on television production projects, and earned 74 grants totaling more than $2 million.

Wunder said he hopes students use his collection to learn the process of writing history and the challenge of doing research on topics where information is not easily found. One of the lessons he had tried to teach is that students of history have to ask good questions.

Another motivation for giving his papers to the UNL Archives is that he was president of the Faculty Senate at an interesting time. As a historian, he said it is very important that the University Archives contains all different points of view regarding the university's history.

"I urge other retiring faculty to give their papers to the Archives," Wunder said. "It is so important that the university's history be on-going and dynamic, representing all of its faculty, students and staff."

Wunder also spoke with great pride about the books and articles written by the 80-plus graduate students he has mentored. These students have gone on to hold positions all over the United States, Canada, and England. They continue to influence the research and writing of the history of Nebraska, the Great Plains and the West.

Dennis Smith, associate professor of history at UNO and member of the Assiniboine Indian nation of Montana, was one student Wunder mentored. Smith calls himself Wunder's biggest fan. Smith said Wunder was very supportive of his students and helped each map out a course for their studies and research.

"John gave me great advice on the direction I should take my research," Smith said. "He encouraged me to apply for a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar and study under other eminent Native scholars. It was the best thing I ever did."

- Joan Barnes, University Libraries