Forrant Honored for Scholarship, Teaching and Service
By Katharine Webster
History Prof. Robert Forrant has been named UMass Lowell’s 2016 University Professor for his outstanding contributions in research, teaching and public history projects in the community.
Forrant, who worked as a machinist and union business representative in Springfield before beginning his academic career as a labor and industrial historian, is the first professor from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to receive the university’s highest faculty honor since the award’s inception in 2008.
When Forrant arrived at Chancellor Jacquie Moloney’s office last week after getting a mysterious summons, he looked around at all the top administrators in the room and quipped, “I didn’t retire, did I?”
“We’re here to congratulate you,” Moloney assured him, before informing him of the award. “You’re so highly regarded and respected on campus.”
Special Adviser to the Chancellor Donald Pierson, who as provost worked closely with Forrant to establish the new master’s degree program in history, lauded his teaching and research, as well as his “extraordinary” community service in Massachusetts and beyond. Forrant has consulted with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, the International Labour Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Metalworkers Federation and other trade unions.
“You’ve been so actively involved in both Lowell and Lawrence,” Pierson said. “Your research often has implications for and direct impact on policy.”
Forrant said he was grateful for the three-year award, which includes a reduced teaching load so he can devote more time to research. This year, he will work with groups of students on researching and writing a history of the Coalition for a Better Acre, a community development corporation in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood, and an exhibit on Portuguese immigration to Lowell for the university’s Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Culture and Research. He will also deliver the University Professor Lecture in spring 2017.
“I really appreciate this,” Forrant said. “I love this place. It’s a great place to do this work and the History Department has given me a great vehicle – I can pretty much teach what I like to teach. Whether it’s immigration history or labor history or industrial history, between Lowell and Lawrence, this is like a living laboratory.”
Forrant was nominated for the honor by Assoc. Prof. Mignon Duffy, chairwoman of the Sociology Department, in part for his mentorship of students, including honors students, through classes, research projects and the Emerging Scholars program.
“His students praise his ability to challenge them to open their minds to new perspectives, to show them the relevance of history and to share his passion for history and social justice with them,” Duffy said in her nomination.
Recently, Forrant commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act with a photo exhibit and events. As chairman of the Lawrence committee for the centennial of the 1912 Bread and Roses strike, he led walking tours, put on commemorative and educational events, created an honors seminar on the history of the strike and Lowell’s connections to it and collaborated on two books on the strike and an exhibition for the (https://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/breadandroses) Digital Public Library of America.
In Lowell, Forrant works extensively with the Tsongas Industrial History Center, the university's Center for Asian American Studies and the Lowell National Historical Park, where he helps train high school teachers of U.S. history and involves students in creating exhibits, programs and digital archives. In Lawrence, he serves on the boards of Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School and the Lawrence History Center, where he recently involved honors students in a conference on urban renewal.
“Every project that Bob is involved in, he engages students at every level. He has six students right now doing really important archival research,” Vice Provost for Student Success Julie Nash said at the announcement. “It’s so much in his DNA he doesn’t even think about doing something off on his own as the professor in the ivory tower.”
“The ideas just keep coming,” added Andrew Harris, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Forrant has received other major honors, including the UMass President’s Award for Public Service, several UMass Creative Economy grants, the university's Martin Luther King Jr. award and the Massachusetts History Commendation.