University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM Mourns Loss of 'Dean of Vermont Studies'

Samuel B. Hand
Professor Emeritus Samuel B. Hand. (Photo: Bill DiLillo)

Vermont lost one of its preeminent historians on June 30 when beloved Professor Emeritus Samuel B. Hand passed away at the age of 80.

Hand, a Korean War veteran who came to UVM in 1961 to teach American history, was well known for his ability to bring history to life for his students and for those who read his books about Vermont’s historical and political past. He was also a mentor to many fellow faculty members at UVM.

“He was like an older brother to me -- a true mentor and friend,” said Professor Emeritus Mark Stoler, who recalls Hand taking him under his wing when he came to UVM in 1971. “He was beloved within the department and helped countless graduate students over the years. The department was very collegial and an enjoyable place to work, and Sam was a large reason for that. He was a very serious, superb scholar, but had an incredible sense of humor. We’re talking about a UVM legend who had an enormous impact on a tremendous number of people.”

Born in New York City and raised in Bayside, Queens and Woodstock, NY, Hand taught U.S. History 1945-present and multiple courses on Vermont. He was also a prolific researcher, writer and editor. His books included “The Star That Set,” a history of the Vermont Republican Party; “Vermont Voices, 1609 Through the 1990s: A Documentary History of the Green Mountain State;” and “Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State” (2011), which he co-authored with former students Anthony Marro ’65, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at Newsday, and Stephen Terry ’64, who co-edited “The Essential Aiken: A Life in Public Service” (2003) with Hand.

“As a teacher, Sam made history -- especially Vermont history -- come alive,” said Terry, who was managing editor of the Rutland Herald before serving as legislative assistant to Sen. Aiken and later as vice president at Green Mountain Power. “He helped me and future generations of UVM students realize early on that there was so much history in the place we were in (Vermont) and that it was -- and is -- an ideal laboratory for scholarship and inquiry, and that it held a fascinating role in shaping early American history. It was Sam who helped me understand what it meant for Vermont to be an independent Republic for 12 years and how that helped mold the character of the state forever. I will miss him as a teacher, friend, and co-author. Most of all, though, Vermont will miss him because he helped all of us understand the place we live.”

Marro says Hand, who was founding director of UVM’s Center for Research on Vermont and a former president of the Vermont Historical Society, taught him the value of storytelling, which Marro later utilized as a journalist.

“The focus for Sam wasn't on names and places and dates but on how and why things happened, what the import of them was, and how they came to have long-lasting impact,” says Marro. “His classroom manner was upbeat and witty, which made for lively sessions. I don't know if all students were anxious for his classes to start and sorry when they came to an end, but I was.”

State Archivist Gregory Sanford, who was a graduate student of Hand’s in the 1970s, says he became an archivist because of Hand’s influence.

“Sam taught me, and others, the nature and practice of intellectual inquiry,” said Sanford. “One reason he became associated with Vermont research was that he felt it provided a host of unasked questions, a vast, but scattered, trove of primary resources, and therefore opportunities to ask a question, locate resources, and then interpret them. As one of his graduate students, he opened doors for me and let me into his networks to further expand my training. I would not have had the opportunities I have had without that generosity… that support was welcomed and it is something I will miss dearly.  In the end, of course, it is Sam the mentor, colleague, friend and father-figure who I will miss the most.”

English Professor Emeritus Ralph “Harry” Orth, who co-edited the fact-filled “Vermont Encyclopedia” with Hand, says his colleague had a rare ability to make broader historical themes more understandable through the use of smaller details and imagery.

“Never was that cliched title ‘Dean of Such-and-Such’ better earned than Sam's as ‘Dean of Vermont Studies,’ said Orth. “His knowledge was not only deep but broad, and he moved from specific details to broad historical interpretations with ease. As a classroom teacher and panel lecturer he kept his listeners on their toes with sly puns, sudden segues from subject to subject, and throwaway punch lines, all delivered with a master’s timing. He was a generous and good-hearted man who delighted in the transmission of knowledge to generations of students.”

Hand is survived by his wife, Harriet, and three daughters. Funeral services will be held Monday, July 2 at 1 p.m. at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue at 188 North Prospect Street in Burlington.