English professor becomes interim chair of history department


Dr. Scott Gordon, a former English Professor, is the new History Department Chair after 23 years. For his first year, he will serve as interim chair of the history department. (Courtesy of the Lehigh Department of English website)

Sifting through a stack of letters, Scott Gordon dissected and pieced back together the life of Mary Penry, an 18th-century Moravian woman who lived in the Bethlehem and Lititz, Pennsylvania communities for 50 years.

Gordon’s research focused on the Moravian experiment in Pennsylvania and was recently published in the Penn State University Press. It is just one of the many historical projects he is passionate about.

Gordon is not a history professor, though. In fact, he has been an English professor at Lehigh for 23 years.

In 2010, Gordon became the chair of the English department. He served in this role for six years before returning to his job as a full-time professor — a role that would allow him to teach while conducting his own research projects.

But after John Pettegrew, the former chair of the history department, passed away this summer, Gordon was called on to head the department until the position is filled.

Gordon will serve as the interim chair of the history department for one year while university administrators search for a full-time replacement. Gordon said he thought he was done being an administrator, but felt it was important to take over as the history chair after losing Pettegrew and other professors in the department. 

“Those people were excellent professors who aren’t offering their classes anymore, and most of those retirements haven’t been filled,” Gordon said. “I think that the department not only misses them as people, but also what they offered to the curriculum.”

Long before coming to Lehigh in 1995, Gordon grew up just outside of Boston in Newton, Massachusetts. In college, he studied English and American literature. Gordon then went on to receive his graduate doctoral fellowship at Harvard University in 17th and 18th-century British literature, a subject he proceeded to write about and teach at Lehigh for his first decade as a professor.

William Bulman, a history and global studies professor, has worked with Gordon for many years and said he believes Gordon is prepared to take on this new role.

“He’s has a lot of experience with this stuff so he definitely knows his way around the duties of a chair,” Bulman said. “He also does historically-oriented scholarship as a professor of English, so as much as anyone who wasn’t a historian could have a sense of what we do, he’s sort of the best person to do that, as well.”

Though some of his scholarship might have overlapped with history, Gordon believes it is more so his background in administrative work that will allow him to succeed as chair of the history department.

His colleagues think he is a great fit for the role, and he knows it too.

“A lot of being chair is just sort of understanding all of the many, many university processes about putting a curriculum together and overseeing personnel reviews,” Gordon said. “I did that for many years as chair of English, so I think that will definitely help me with being chair of history.”

Dr. Monica Najar, an associate professor of history, has known Gordon for 18 years and co-directed the Gipson Institute for Eighteenth-Century Studies with him for roughly 10 years.

“He has a wealth of knowledge and he is extremely generous with it.” Najar said. “He’s doing a fantastic job.”

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