Jim Albisetti Retires After 41 Years, Leaving Many Legacies

By Julie Wrinn

For Dr. Jim Albisetti, the angels are in the details.

He was a familiar figure in Patterson Office Tower -- certainly on the 17th floor, where the History Department resides, but also on the 11th and third floors, where the Honors Program used to be housed, and on the second floor, where staff members in the Dean’s Office knew we could rely on his impeccable proofreading skills whenever they had a deadline looming.

That attention to detail served him well as a scholar of 19th-century German and western European history. His teaching interests also extended through the 20th century, including the history of education and the professions, social history of the middle classes and women’s history. On his retirement this year after a 41-year career at the University of Kentucky, I heard from two of the many students he mentored over the years.

Danielle (Dodson) Picken (M.A. ’12 and Ph.D. ’16), who is director of stewardship and development communications at Kentucky Country Day School, said:

During my time at UK, I was fortunate to be a part of “Team Britain,” a group of graduate students studying British history whom Dr. Albisetti adopted as his own. Dr. A. takes his work as a mentor, colleague and friend as seriously as he takes his scholarship, and that devotion to students is rare and will be missed. Dr. A. became an essential member of Team Britain because his attention to detail is and was unparalleled. He double-checked the page numbers in our footnotes and found our typos and dangling modifiers. He always knew the exchange rate of the pound and would remind us of it before we embarked on our research trips to London (made possible by the Albisetti Dissertation Research Fellowship he so generously started). He also remembers to send me a birthday card every year and a note each year on my wedding anniversary. He even provided me with a “sixpence for my shoe” — a reference to the Victorian rhyme about what a bride needs for good luck on her wedding day — to wear when I walked down the aisle. It was easy in graduate school to feel like our worth was in our work, but Dr. A. always made us feel like he valued our worth as friends and people, and his investment (both in terms of time and resources) in the graduate program is a testament to this belief. Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. A.

Jill Abney (Ph.D. ’16), an assistant director in UK’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, said:

I’d like to offer my modest toast to Dr. A. by sharing a bit about his support for me as a doctoral student. Graduate school is not the easiest place to find one’s confidence, especially for a history teacher from Eastern Kentucky. Dr. A. challenged me intellectually while also helping me feel like I belonged. His encouragement and coaching in my writing and research during one of his research seminars helped me improve as a historian while also bringing me external validation. For the essay I wrote in that course, I was named a co-winner of the Snell Prize, awarded by the European History section of the Southern Historical Association. That prize was a small but much-needed boost for my own confidence as a scholar that came as a result of Dr. A’s mentorship and persistence. Dr. A.’s philanthropy and generosity, especially the Albisetti Dissertation Research Fellowship, played an important role in my ability to access resources and source materials that made being a British historian possible. I am grateful to his intellectual mentorship and his generosity, but most of all, I am thankful for the moments when he made himself available for conversation and support. Ever-present on the 17th floor (I remain convinced he clocked at least 40 hours a week in that office), Dr. A. was always willing to chat about matters large and small.

Cheers to you, Jim, on your well-deserved retirement. Thanks for all you did for me and for students like me. And please note, any misplaced modifiers, dangling participles, or other grammatical faux pas you find in this text were inserted purposefully — just to keep you on your toes.

Dr. Jim Albisetti was born in Delaware, attended high school in Clarence, New York (suburban Buffalo), graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College (1971) and earned a Ph.D. from Yale University (1976). Among his professional honors were serving as president of the History of Education Society, as an executive committee member of the International Standing Conference for the History of Education, as associate editor of History of Education Quarterly, and as University of Kentucky Research Professor in 1989-90. He won the German Studies Association Book Prize for Secondary School Reform in Imperial Germany (Princeton, 1983). At UK, he served as interim director of the Honors Program for five semesters, as director of Graduate Studies in history for nine semesters, on the University Senate Hearing Panel and on the Advisory Board of the UK Art Museum since 2011.

As a longtime donor himself, Albisetti was an ally to our philanthropy officers, making sure History donors were thanked and received reports on the use of their funds. He served on the Arts & Sciences Faculty and Staff Campaign Committee in 2017-18. In 2013, he was awarded the Terry B. Mobley Development Service Award, conferred upon a UK administrator, faculty or staff member who demonstrates extraordinary support for development efforts at the university, and who is also a strong advocate for UK philanthropy.

In 2003, Albisetti established the endowed Albisetti Dissertation Research Fellowship to support history graduate students who incur research and conference expenses. From there, his commitment to philanthropy at UK blossomed into funds that he created in support of the UK Art Museum; the former Honors Program, where he taught on a joint appointment for 34 years; and one other endowment for which he wishes to remain anonymous. He will be greatly missed by faculty colleagues, staff, and students, but we look forward to his continued involvement in the life of the university.

All are invited to celebrate Jim at his retirement party from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 18, via Zoom. Click here to register for the party.

Donations in honor of Albisetti’s retirement may be made to the Albisetti Dissertation Research Fellowship at this link.


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