After 30 years in the University of Alabama’s Department of History, Dr. Lawrence F. Kohl will be retiring at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. Dr. Kohl is known across campus for his courses on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, however this was not the period he was trained in. In fact, Kohl says, “I never had a course on the history of the Civil War, ever.” Kohl’s graduate work was in Jacksonian America, but that wasn’t his original plan, either. He had studied Colonial American history as an undergraduate and graduate student, but when Kohl’s original dissertation advisor went on leave, he was transferred to another professor who “dragged me away from the Colonial period” and into the Jacksonian Era. After graduating, Kohl’s first job was with Fordham University, who hired him to teach a Civil War course. “I had to learn all of it myself,” Kohl says. He has taught courses on the Civil War ever since.
Kohl has also taught courses on Jacksonian America – his favorite history course – and courses within the Blount and Honors programs. His all-time favorite class was an Interim course he taught called Battles of the Civil War. At the end of the course, he took students on a weeklong tour of Civil War battle sites where they explored, watched Memorial Day parades, and smoked cigars on Little Round Top. Kohl says, “It was a fabulous experience.”
Looking back over three decades at Alabama, Kohl says that his favorite thing about being a professor has been the relationships he’s developed with students. “I still get Christmas cards from people I taught back in 1980,” he says. Kohl remains a well-known and beloved figure on campus. In 2010, Dr. Kohl delivered the Graduate School’s Last Lecture, and in 2011 he received the Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award. Once he retires, Kohl plans to work on a book on Abraham Lincoln, travel, and spend more time with his two granddaughters.
Dr. Kohl’s advice to students is straightforward: “Stay off your devices, read and write, and take advantage of this time in your life to get an education.” He adds that students should find inspirational professors and follow them: “Take people, not classes.” A strong believer in the importance of a good education, Kohl stresses that students ought to work hard during their time in college because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. “So many people just come here to learn how to do something. They don’t realize you come here to think about what is worth doing.”
From all of us in the History Department, thank you Dr. Kohl for all of the work you have done for the department and the university over the past thirty years. Happy retirement!