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Historian Richard Drake has spent 35 years at the University of Montana as a respected teacher and researcher. His deep commitment and meaningful contributions to the field have already been recognized – among other awards, he received the Governor’s Humanities Medal in 2011. This April, he received one of University’s highest honors: he was named the first Lucile Speer Research Chair in History and Politics.

Historian Richard Drake

The Speer Chair was established by a generous donor who aimed to honor the work of former UM documents librarian Lucile Speer.

Speer was passionate about civics and politics, volunteering for the League of Women Voters, the Missoula Democratic Club and Eugene McCarthy’s campaign in 1968. At 73, she was the oldest delegate at the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, which rewrote Montana’s constitution.

The Speer Chair aims to honor that legacy by recognizing a distinguished scholar who explores both history and politics.

Drake is a shining example.

He joined UM’s history department in 1982 after teaching at UCLA, UC Irvine, Wellesley and Princeton. In the years since, he has published five books, with a sixth coming out next year.

His research career started in Italy, where he explored the political thought and activity that led to the rise of fascism in the early 20th century. This led to an examination of Italy’s radical left, and he wrote three books about Marxist revolutionaries who terrorized the country from 1969 to 1984, including the kidnapping and murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

Through his research of that time period, he began to explore how the legacy of Italy’s recent past continues to affect its political ideology today, and to look at the problem of terrorism more broadly. Now he teaches a course on terrorism in the modern world in addition to his courses on European intellectual history and modern Italy.

“One thing leads to another in the scholarly world,” Drake says.

His forthcoming book, The Return of Charles Beard, is a venture into American history, which Drake says has always interested him. This project, too, sprang from a previous work.

“My last book – an intellectual biography of Robert LaFollette, the leader of the antiwar movement in World War I – led me to my current book on Beard,” he says. “They were political allies. One project usually turns up problems that turn into my next project.”

Drake is “thrilled” that the chair position will afford him more time to work on research and writing.

“I’m deeply honored to hold this position. I’m really still adjusting to what it will mean in my scholarly life.”