Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Thomas D. Clark, July 12, 1991

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:10 - Introduction to interview

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Thomas D. Clark, conducted on July 12, 1991 at his home in Lexington, Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewee and interviewer are introduced, as well as the date and location of the interview.

Keywords: History; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Louisville (Ms.); Oral history; Thomas Clark; Thomas D. Clark

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Oral history

00:00:26 - Introduction to Clark / family history

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what is your full name?

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives his full name and discusses his family history and the environment in the South when he was a child. He talks of the tales of the Civil War, his father's cotton farming, and the former slaves that he knew, and mentions that he went up to "sixth or seventh grade" in his mother's one-room schoolhouse.

Keywords: American Civil War; American South; Civil War; Emancipation; History; Literature; Louisville (Miss.); Slavery

Subjects: American South.; Childhood; Civil war.; Clark, Thomas D.; Families.; Genealogy; History.; Literature.; Slave-holder; Slavery.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

GPS: Louisville (Miss.)
Map Coordinates: 33.123056, -89.056111
00:09:27 - Childhood / early education

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Partial Transcript: What was your childhood like?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about his "happy childhood" and his mother's job as a teacher and what it was like being her student. His mother had had college training, and read a whole lot--which was a major influence on him. This was aided by his grandfather's massive library. More Southern perceptions of the Civil War are also mentioned.

Keywords: American South; Civil War; Education; History; Slavery

Subjects: American South.; Childhood; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; Families.; History.; Slavery.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:13:34 - Interest in reading and writing / high school

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Partial Transcript: What about in, in elementary school or high school, do you remember reading or history emerging as special interests for you then?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about his time in high school and further influences on his reading and writing, including telling anecdotes of starting a student newspaper and of going against the rules and reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" under the covers at night in the dormitory.

Keywords: Education; History; Literature

Subjects: American South.; Christianity.; Clark, Thomas D.; Kentucky; Literature.; Protestant; Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.

00:18:28 - How he got to high school

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Partial Transcript: Was, was this something that was an option at the time? That you could stay or go out of the county?

Segment Synopsis: From ages sixteen to eighteen (the end of World War I), Clark worked on a dredge boat, and gave that up to go to the preparatory boarding school mentioned in the previous segment to get ready for college. He played football for that school, which had a fairly good team.

Keywords: American South; Boll weevils; Education; Mississippi State University; World War I

Subjects: American South.; American literature--Kentucky.; Boll weevil blues; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; Kentucky--In literature.; World War, 1914-1918

00:22:43 - Choosing a college / his interest in history

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Partial Transcript: Then what happened?

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses his reasons for choosing the University of Mississippi with the intent of going to law school, which then leads to the story of how he wound up becoming interested in history as a field.

Keywords: Agriculture; American South; Boll weevil blight; Boll weevils; Charles S. Sydnor; Charles Sydnor; History; Louisville (Miss.); University of Mississippi

Subjects: Agriculture.; Boll weevil blues; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Sydnor, Charles S. (Charles Sackett), 1898-1954; University of Mississippi

00:26:53 - Interest in writing / influence of English professor / working for the student paper

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Partial Transcript: I, I had the good fortune that I learned something that stayed with me all my life.

Segment Synopsis: Clark tells of the importance of writing during his college career--an English professor who "challenged his imagination" that gave him tools for teaching and a job at the student paper that eventually yielded him a scholarship to finish his bachelor's degree at the University of Virginia.

Keywords: Dialects; Education; History; Literature; University of Mississippi; University of Virginia

Subjects: Clark, Thomas D.; Dialect.; Education.; History.; Literature.; University of Mississippi; University of Virginia

00:31:27 - Attending the University of Virginia / starting his masters degree at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: But, I, I went three years to the University of Mississippi, and then I lacked a quarter of having my work completed for my AB degree, and they permitted me a very unusual thing.

Segment Synopsis: Clark tells the story of moving to Virginia to finish his degree under the eyes of his uncle, and how he wound up in a master's program in history at the University of Kentucky with no idea what he was going to do with his life. His interest in and awareness of the literature and figures of history grew.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature; University of Kentucky; University of Mississippi; University of Virginia

Subjects: Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Literature.; University of Kentucky; University of Mississippi; University of Virginia

00:38:41 - Maturation of his interest in history / choosing Duke University for doctoral work

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Partial Transcript: Once I got through that year, I was committed to the profession.

Segment Synopsis: Clark tells the story of the summer between finishing his MA and starting his Ph.D. at the very new Duke University, how he picked that college, why he didn't want to stay on at Kentucky, and his knowledge of libraries in the Bluegrass region.

Keywords: American South; Appalachia; Bluegrass region; Centre College; Danville (Ky.); Duke University; Education; Frankfort (Ky.); Georgetown (Ky.); History; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature; University of Missouri; Vanderbilt University

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region.; Bluegrass Region (Ky.); Centre College (Danville, Ky.); Duke University; Education.; Georgetown College (Georgetown, Ky.); History.; Literature.Kentucky--In literature.; University of Missouri; Vanderbilt University

00:45:03 - Doctoral work at the new Duke University

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Partial Transcript: --they [Trinity College/now Duke University library] were buying books madly.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the "stimulating" experience of earning a Ph.D. in the history department at Duke University while it was transitioning from being Trinity College. He lists some classmates, seminars, and professors in particular. He wrote a lot, already knew French, and learned German on his own, but had no experience with the English department.

Keywords: American South; Duke University; Education; History; Literature

Subjects: American South.; Clark, Thomas D.; Duke University; Education.; History.; Literature.

00:50:35 - Early professorship during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: What about your development--career development after graduate school?

Segment Synopsis: Within two years, he had completed his doctorate, taught the last spring quarter in 1931 at the University of Tennessee and that summer at Memphis State, before starting teaching that fall, at the request of President McVey himself, at the University of Kentucky in order to help build the library. He talks about marrying his wife and the struggles of being a young academic during the Great Depression.

Keywords: American South; Education; Great Depression; History; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature; Memphis (Tenn.); Memphis State University; University of Kentucky; University of Tennessee

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Depressions--1929; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; University of Kentucky

00:55:02 - Interest in original research

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Partial Transcript: And I came with a deep appreciation, that it was one thing to stand in a class and peddle secondary information...

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about the varying amounts of inspiration he got from different professors regarding original research, and what exactly might have gotten him started writing--working at the student paper as an undergraduate and performing a survey of literature of Kentucky history.

Keywords: Charles S. Sydnor; Charles Sydnor; Education; History; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature; University of Kentucky

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Sydnor, Charles S. (Charles Sackett), 1898-1954; University of Kentucky

00:58:18 - Interest in Kentucky history

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Partial Transcript: And then going to graduate school, uh, that is, for my doctorate, I wrote a long, dull dissertation--

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the shift on his interests in railroad history to that of the frontier/Westward movement as a whole and on Kentucky history, the latter inspired by having to prepare a textbook for a Kentucky history course he was assigned to teach.

Keywords: Kentucky writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Manifest Destiny.; Railroad; Railroad in American history; University of Kentucky; Western experience

01:02:07 - Marriage and children

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Partial Transcript: Before we talk more about your writing, could you tell me a little bit more about your personal life?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about his two children and children-in-law, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, saying where they went to college and where they're working.

Keywords: Child rearing; Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Child rearing.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:04:52 - His bibliography as a whole

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Partial Transcript: Uh, when you got--well, the twenty books that--more than twenty books that you've authored and edited, do you have a favorite one?

Segment Synopsis: When asked what his favorite, least favorite, and hardest to write books are, he states that he can't answer that definitively, and talks about the writing process and the writing/researching process of several of his books.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:10:15 - What he wishes he'd written

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Partial Transcript: Uh, is there a book you would like to have written, but haven't?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about what he'd love to have written--a seminal biography in American culture, and gives a few examples of the individuals he might have written on but didn't.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:13:46 - Writing for the layperson

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Partial Transcript: When you write your books, or the books you've written, who are you primarily writing for? Historians or laypeople or both?

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives his (negative) thoughts on the idea of historians writing for historians and then describes the sort of layperson he writes for, down to whether or not they're sentimental towards the topic, as explained using one of his books as an example.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Layman; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:17:47 - Current and future projects / editing Bradford's notes into what would become "The Voice of the Frontier"

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Partial Transcript: Uh, are you working on any writing projects now? Do you have any planned for the future?

Segment Synopsis: When asked about current or future projects, Clark talks about the issues regarding editing frontiersman/early Kentucky politician/newsman John Bradford's notes, and a great deal about Bradford himself.

Keywords: Education; History; Isaac Shelby; John Bradford; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:23:25 - Hopes for writing / goals of historians / diversifying history

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Partial Transcript: What do you get out of writing that you don't get out of teaching?

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses his hopes for his own writings and then expands into the goals of historians and how he'd write some of his older books differently, including adding more intersectionality--the role of women, African Americans, and Native Americans, without, in his words, "segregating them" away from the whole.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:30:41 - On other Kentucky writers

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Partial Transcript: Um, other than yourself, who do you think is currently writing significant books about Kentucky history?

Segment Synopsis: Clark is asked about good Kentucky writers "other than himself," to which he responds, "leave me out of it," and then lists several students of his and others who have gone on to make names for themselves in the world of Kentucky history, whether as historians or as other types of writers. The role of Appalachia, in both Kentucky and in these writers' works, is also discussed.

Keywords: Appalachia; Bobbie Ann Mason; Education; Harry Caudill; History; James Still; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature; Lowell H. Harrison; Lowell Harrison; University of Kentucky; Wade Hall; Wendell Berry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region.; Clark, Thomas D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:36:34 - Gaps in the canon of Kentucky history / history teaching

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Partial Transcript: We've come lightmiles away in the literature, in the state but we've got lightmiles to go.

Segment Synopsis: Going off the previous discussion of the progression of both history as a field and his own personal views on intersectionality, Clark talks about gaps in the field of Kentucky history, including subjects he thinks there need to be books on. When asked, he also talks about his complicated thoughts on the teaching of history in the state.

Keywords: Agriculture; Appalachia; Bluegrass region; Education; History; Lexington (Ky.); Literature; Oral history

Subjects: Agriculture.; Appalachia; Appalachian region; Bluegrass region (Ky.); Clark, Thomas D.; Education; History.; Literature.; Oral history.

01:40:55 - Thoughts on history textbooks

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about history textbooks in general?

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives this thoughts on history textbooks as a whole, both on quality, the idea of textbooks, the role they should serve in education, and the struggle of finding a good one.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

01:44:42 - Writing history / the role of historians

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Partial Transcript: Also, in terms of education and how history should be taught, um, I was just wondering how you feel about the...

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives his thoughts on the exact role of historians--an immoral, neutral party, not a "moral judge," with the goal of looking at the facts and arranging them into something intelligible, as well as the complicated balance of writing narrative history or historical fiction.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.

01:54:02 - His dislike of multiple choice tests / importance of writing to students

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Partial Transcript: Uh, do you believe students of history should be asked to write about history in school instead of simply to relate their knowledge by taking multiple choice tests and the like?

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses his hatred of multiple choice tests and the necessity of writing to history students and humanity as a whole. He also mentions his time giving "objective" multiple choice tests to soldiers during World War II.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature; World War II

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; World War, 1939-1945

02:01:47 - Thoughts on "writing across the curriculum" / more on teaching history

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Partial Transcript: Well, it, it amuses me how, how all disciplines, maybe with the exception of, of math, uh, in the past...

Segment Synopsis: Clark further discusses the importance of writing in history courses, as well as the "gamble" of teaching--how a teacher will never know while teaching if they're creating or destroying interest in the subject within the students.

Keywords: History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:07:45 - Current state of history

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Partial Transcript: Are there trends in writing about history now in the national or international scene that, that you'd like to comment on?

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives his thoughts on the current state of history, ranging from the number of books being written and the possible reasons why, to the "crusading" nature of young historians' writing.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysis, 1903-2005--Interviews; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:15:12 - The impact of better libraries and expanded technology on historical research

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Partial Transcript: --like today the university systems have changed to the point where they're requiring everybody to publish whether they should or not.

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about the impact of better libraries and technologies on historical research, how this creates better scholarly work, but in his opinion, also deprives people of the old and difficult research experience.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Libraries; Literature; Technology

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Libraries.; Literature.; Mass media and technology.; Technology.

02:20:20 - Writing style trends in academia / applying scientific methods to social science

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Partial Transcript: What about the--not just the quantity of books being turned out today in history, but--or the quality, but what about the, the trend in, in writing style?

Segment Synopsis: When asked, Clark discusses current trends in writing history, and his perceptions of them, as well as the trend of applying scientific methods to historical research and other social sciences.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:25:12 - Receiving a Guggenheim / events that should be covered

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Partial Transcript: You also, uh, were awarded a Guggenheim?

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer mentions Clark's Guggenheim, Clark then calling his lack of fulfilling it an "embarrassment" to him. They then talk about events and developments in the twentieth century that need to be covered or should be covered soon in historical writing.

Keywords: Civil rights; Education; History; Intersectionality; Kentucky writers; Literature; Technology; Urbanization; World War I; World War II

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Civil rights.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Mass media and technology; Technology.; Urbanization.; World War, 1914-1918; World War, 1939-1945

02:28:42 - Writing methods

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Partial Transcript: Um, I also wanted to ask you about your, your writing habits.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer inquires about Clark's writing habits--longhand vs. on a typewriter, number of drafts, regularity, etc.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature; Technology

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:31:11 - Advice to aspiring writers

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Partial Transcript: Um, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Segment Synopsis: Clark gives advice to aspiring writers: just write (don't wait for a muse) and keep an open mind regarding new ideas from what will come "when you turn the page." He also mentions encouraging women and other unrepresented groups in his classes to tell the stories of their groups.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; History.; Literature.

02:37:08 - The importance of copy editors / being editor of Journal of Southern History

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Partial Transcript: What haven't we talked about that you think is important to mention about your writing or about your life?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about the importance of copy editors and the impact of reviewers. He talks about his former position as editor of the Journal of Southern History and the struggles that came with that.

Keywords: Copy-editing; Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature; Publishers; Publishing

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; Publishers and publishing.

02:44:10 - On being an author / relationship to one's own books

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Partial Transcript: Um, anything else, that we haven't discussed that--

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about the unique struggles of being an author--how you will never be satisfied with your work, "being a slave to" your style of writing, and the importance of honesty.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas D.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.

02:51:41 - Themes across his work / his humanism

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Partial Transcript: And what I was wondering was, because, of course there are historians who don't write and historians who do...

Segment Synopsis: When asked, Clark says that he doesn't really have a theme across his work as an area, but that if he had to name a theme, it would be the importance of humanity, of human nature. This leads into a discussion between him and Linda Beattie on the validity of the concept of human nature.

Keywords: Education; History; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005; Clark, Thomas Dionysius, 1903-2005--Interviews; Clark, Thomas, D.; Education.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.