Professor Marion James’s teaching specialty was the history of ancient Greece and Rome, but her scholarly interests spanned the centuries to modern times. After earning both an MA and a PhD from Radcliffe College, she taught at Wheaton College before accepting a position in the history department her alma mater. Recognizing early on that the world was changing in dramatic ways, she encouraged UNH’s history faculty to move toward a more global approach that focused not just on Europe and North America but also included Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania, says her former colleague, emeritus history professor Douglas L. Wheeler.
“Some faculty in the department resisted this change,” says Wheeler. James quietly but firmly persisted, and World History soon became part of the UNH history curriculum.
James served on many department and university committees, and as chair of the history department in the 1960s. She is thought to have been the first woman to chair a department in the College of Liberal Arts. James was instrumental in starting an honors program at UNH and considered its establishment one of her proudest accomplishments.
As a teacher James was organized, demanding, and inspiring says Mary Moore ’62. “There was always a detailed outline on the board. That was good because she lectured so quickly that your fingers were numb at the end of class.” James’s courses encouraged Moore to earn her own PhD in Greek and Roman archeology and the two women kept in touch over the years.
A fearless traveler at a time when it was unusual for women to venture alone to far-flung places, James visited Egypt, Syria, Iran, India and Afghanistan, beginning in the 1960s. “Marion traveled through the Khyber Pass on a bus by herself,” Moore recalls, “and across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway.”
As she explored the world, James amassed an impressive art collection, which she enjoyed discussing at the popular dinner parties she hosted in her Durham home.
When she retired in 1986 after 30 years, she was one of UNH’s first female faculty members to have achieved the rank of full professor. In retirement James devoted herself to her many interests, including a continuing role at UNH. She served on the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, and as a board member and eventual president of the University Art Gallery (now the UNH Museum of Art).
James died on Sept. 21, 2015, at age 97, bequeathing her extensive art collection to the UNH Museum of Art. The only child of the late UNH chemistry professor Charles James, for whom James Hall is named, Marion never married and had no children. For several summers she enjoyed visits from a cousin from England. With his passing many years ago, it is believed she left no survivors.
Originally published in UNH Magazine Spring 2016 Issue