Notes on Professor Hans Schmitt

"Schmitt speaking."  That is how Mr. Schmitt--at the University of Virginia professors were always addressed as "Mr." not "professor"--that was how Mr. Schmitt, professor of European history always answered his phone.  It could scare you half to death if you weren't ready for it.

First, let me say that I am sure that if it had not been for "Hans," I would not have made it through the history graduate program, but getting to know him and being able to work with him was not without its trials and tribulations.  Once you got to know him and what he demanded of you, then all was OK.  Up until that point it could be brutal.  In fact, a lot of students enrolled in his twentieth-century Europe seminar with pure fear in their hearts and minds, and never really got over that fear.  I had a great time.

My first experience was with his colloquium on modern Europe (a reading and discussion course). I think that it was the spring semester of my first year.  What an absolute disaster.  I remember that we were assigned seemingly bizarre books to read from a long list, and then we had to report on them, etc.  There never seemed to be any order or logic to the books or the presentations or the questions to which we had to respond.  We would just look at each other helpless.  I remember having to read something on the Balkans and then something on the Sykes-Picot agreement regarding the Middle East, but I am never sure if we ever even got around to discussing those specific books.  For a friend of mine and myself, the class was pure terror; we never knew what was going to happen or what exactly we were supposed to be doing.

Now, by my second year, I think that I had gotten things figured out about how to succeed in graduate school, and I finally realized the level of work that I would have to do to succeed in one of Mr. Schmitt's courses.  I was in his seminar, a research paper class in the fall, and I had an absolutely great time.  I was in command of my subject, knew my sources, worked my tail off and got an outstanding grade and a thumbs up from Mr. Schmitt.  Both he and I had figured out that I could do this grad school thing.  My work in that seminar, eventually turned into my M.A. thesis with Mr. Schmitt as one of my readers.

If you had to ask yourself if you had done enough work, then you hadn't done enough work. As he once told me about interviews for history positions at UVa, he knew a candidate was not cut out for UVa if the candidate asked how much publishing he/she was expected to do.

Now, to turn the corner, the next course that I had with Mr. Schmitt, was also a twentieth-century Europe class that was a lecture for the undergraduates and a Friday afternoon meeting for the graduate students in a classroom in the basement of New Cabell Hall.  Now this time I could enjoy the class, because I knew what was coming, and I could watch all the other younger grad students squirm, squirm, squirm.  It was so much fun, especially on a Friday afternoon.  I was always easily prepared, having done loads of background preparation; the others now were the ones with no idea of what to do.  At one point in the semester, Mr. Schmitt, even called me aside to basically tell me to let him work with the younger ones and that he was not counting on me having to participate.

I also enjoyed stopping by his office to talk things over with him at times.  He helped, as I have said, a bit with my M.A.  He had that office on the top floor of Randall Hall, western end of the hall, on the right, near the steps, and he would sometimes sit in there smoking his pipe or a cigar.  I can't even remember anymore but am pretty sure that it was a pipe.

He did give me all of his copies of Revue moderne et contemporaine when he moved out of his office, and he commented to me that he thought that I would find it useful.  I thought that it was great that he would respect me by giving me his copies of this leading European history journal (in French) to a Russian history major.  He had clearly come to have some degree of respect for me as a European historian.  That was something about him.  He always considered himself a student of history and not just a historian of Germany.

A couple of other random thoughts in no particular order.

I always found it interesting that the the UVa profs expected to be called at home to transact business--guess since they did not have much in the way of office hours, a bad habit.  I never really got used to having to call them at home.

In my years in grad school, I ended up taking a bunch of Mr. Schmitt's courses and I always thought that he was better with his graduate students than in the larger undergraduate lecture courses where Sablinsky really shined.

He also signed a copy of his autobiography, A Lucky Man, for me when I bought a copy years ago.  I know that he had a very interesting life, to say the least, but I've got to say that I've never gotten around to reading the book!

I would always run into him on one of the floors in Alderman Library doing research on one topic or another, even years after he had retired from the department.  He would always start our conversations, in his German accent, something along the lines, of "Well, you know, Mr. Evans..."

Finally, when we had lunch together with Meg and Jim Trott in the spring of 2006, I recalled for Mr. Schmitt the gum-chewing incident which still was fresh in my memory after all of these years.  In one of my classes with Mr. Schmitt, I remember that we used to sit around a large circular table.  It was at some point that I was trying to quit smoking, and I had hit upon gum-chewing as the answer.  (Well, that did not work.)  Anyway, one day, I must have been happily chomping away in class, and afterwards, Mr. Schmitt, expressed to me in that kind of German-accented voice that he had, something to the extent, "Well, Mr. Evans, now what is it with the gum?"  I explained that I was trying to quit smoking, and he replied that while he found the goal praise-worthy, he would ask that I keep the gum a bit under wraps during class.  I still find this humorous to recall.

OK, last but certainly not the least, Mr. Schmitt was always ready to help me out with any of my grad school requirements.  He read my MA thesis and then later read my PhD dissertation and served on my defense, and he understood my desire to have him do these things instead of some others in the department.  He really did help with my dissertation, offering numerous comments and suggestions that did make it a better work.

Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt
Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt
Blue bar

Some books:

  • The Path to European Union: From the Marshall Plan to the Common Market, Louisiana State University Press, 1962.
  • Charles Peguy: The Decline of an Idealist, Louisiana State University Press, 1967.
  • European Union: From Hitler to De Gaulle, Van Nostrand, 1969.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Historians of Modern Europe, Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
  • (With John L. Snell) The Democratic Movement in Germany, 1789-1914, University of North Carolina Press, 1976.
  • U.S. Occupation in Europe after World War II, Regents Press of Kansas, 1978.
  • The First Year of the Nazi Era: A Schoolboy's Perspective, East Carolina University, 1985.
  • (Editor) Neutral Europe Between War and Revolution, 1917-23, University Press of Virginia, 1988.
  • Lucky Victim: An Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, 1933-1946, Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
  • Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness, University of Missouri Press, 1997.


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