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COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 200 8 University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. T his oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
1 USF Florida Studies Center Oral History Project USF 50 th History Anniversary Project Narrator: Dr. Simon Messing Interviewer: Mark I. Greenberg Current Position: Retired Professor of Location of Interview: Tampa Anthropology Campus Libr ary Date of Interview: January 16, 2004 Abstractor: Jared G. Toney Editor: Danielle E. Riley Final Editor: Jared G. Toney Date of Edit: May 26, 2004 TOPICS OF DISCUSSION Dr Messing taught Anthropology at USF from 1960 1965. Background; early educ ational experiences Dr. Messing was born in Germany in 1922. He came to the United States at the age of seventeen, after spending a year in England, meeting up with some distant relatives who were living on the East Coast. He worked various jobs to support himself during the day while attending classes in the evening to earn his high school diploma. He then enrolled at the City College of New York, where after "some interruptions," he graduated and decided to begin studying anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Academic focus As an undergraduate, Dr. Messing was interested primarily in psychology and economics, though he soon became dissatisfied with the subjects. "When I encountered anthropology I became interested, because it included both ec onomics and psychology." Because of his interest in both Africa and the Middle East, he chose to center his dissertation on the ethnography of a nation that captured the essence of both worlds: Ethiopia. When he procured funding, Dr. Messing was able to tr avel to Ethiopia, where he traveled the hinterlands on the back of a mule. Employment When he returned to the States, he began looking for a teaching position while continuing to work on his dissertation. The employment office at CCNY found him a job at a black Methodist college in Georgia, where he spent two years teaching and completing his dissertation. Having been awarded his Ph.D. in 1957, Dr. Messing then transferred to a position at Hiram College in Ohio, where he also spent two years. The employme nt office at the University of Pennsylvania then contacted him regarding an employment opportunity at the University of South Florida, and he met with one of the deans from the University who was traveling around the country interviewing prospective candid ates. After meeting with the dean, Dr. Messing was hired, and made his move to South Florida in 1960.
2 USF During his interview, the dean from USF told him that South Florida was a "fast developing institution" where he would have the freedom to actually c reate his own program "the kind of freedom you don't have at an established institution And I liked Florida anyway because I had visited [it] before So, it worked out very well." Service in the U.S. Army Dr. Messing served in the United States army, where he gained his citizenship, after having been in the country for only three years. "The Army was concerned that if any non American was taken prisoner, they would not be covered by the Geneva Convention." Initial impressions of USF Dr. Messing reca lls that when he first arrived, USF was a "very small institution" with only around seven hundred students. In fact, when he began teaching, he was the only anthropologist at the university, situated with the College of Arts and Sciences. Physically, he re members the campus was largely bare, though surrounded by orange groves at the perimeters of the university. Courses In September he began teaching introductory courses in anthropology in addition to a course on Africa, where he was able to draw from his own experiences. In addition to reading and writing assignments, he incorporated his own slides into the class discussions, something that he remembers the students were particularly fond of. While he was generally impressed by the quality of his students, he recalls that many of them were particularly deficient in world history and geography. "Imagine trying to teach anthropology when the students have no idea of geography, not to mention history." His goal of the course was foremost to "remedy those defic iencies," and introduce students to foreign countries, ethnic groups, and the concept of cultural relativism. "I tried to explain all of the cultural aspects but didn't go too far into the politics of it because that would have complicated it too much." Research in Ethiopia In the spring of 1961, Dr. Messing received a call from Washington, D.C. that "changed my life." He learned that a public health team was being formed whose mission it was to educate Ethiopian students. They were dispatched to the Afri can nation for a year from 1963 to 1964. In addition to the aid they were providing to Ethiopians, Dr. Messing and his team were also assigned research responsibilities, which included testing for diseases and community studies of the area. "I no longer ha d to ride a mule we had three Land Rovers." Political climate in Ethiopia "When I was in Ethiopia, I was very lucky it was very peaceful. Emperor Haile Selassie had a reputation for wisdom, govern by wisdom rather than force a benign ruler Things were really quiet. It became much more difficult later on."
3 Relationship with USF He recalls that officials at USF were "rather flattered" that one of their professors had been chosen to do such work, and thus were entirely supportive of his efforts. His experiences enriched his classroom discussions upon his return to the United States. "I had done applied medical anthropology. I had become a medical anthropologist on the job, with hands on training." Return to Ethiopia He also made a second trip to Ethiopia from 1965 to 1967 as a result of the U.S. government's request that the research be continued. When he returned, he found that USF had replaced him, and he was forced to look for another job. He was able to find a temporary position in the Baltimo re area for the length of one year, at which time he found a teaching job in Connecticut, where he spent the remainder of his professional years. While in Connecticut, Dr. Messing was married and started a family. His daughter is currently in her first yea r as a professor of anthropology at USF. Retirement; current work While working at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Messing continued researching and writing about Ethiopia, publishing many articles on the region. He retired at the age of sixty seven. Since then, he has continued attending conferences and publishing articles "from time to time." End of Interview
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Messing, Simon D.
q (Simon David)
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Mark I. Greenberg.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (39 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 expanded summary (digital, PDF file)
USF 50th (2006) anniversary oral history project
Interview conducted January 16, 2004.
Simon Messing, retired professor of Anthropology, discusses his career at USF and the work he did on campus and in Ethiopia. Dr. Messing's daughter is following in his footsteps, as she is currently a professor of Anthropology at USF.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Messing, Simon D.
University of South Florida.
University of South Florida.
Dept. of Anthropology.
Greenberg, Mark I.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y CLICK HERE TO ACCESS DIGITAL AUDIO AND EXPANDED SUMMARY