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UM Students, Faculty Mourn Death of Beloved History Professor

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

John Neff, UM associate professor of history and director of the Center of Civil War Research died Thursday.
Photo provided

As an associate professor of history, John R. Neff shared his knowledge and love for history to countless students in his 20 years at the University of Mississippi.

Many of those students took to social media in the last two days to remember him, give thanks to him and grieve him.

Neff, who also served as the director for the Center of Civil War Research, died unexpectedly Thursday afternoon.

“Teaching is an odd sort of discipline I think,” Neff said during an interview in 2009 after receiving the Elsie B. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. “We plant lots of seeds hoping they will blossom. Sometimes we see that and sometimes we don’t, or sometimes it’s years later.”

Neff joined the faculty at the University of Mississippi in 1999. The following year, he was invited to participate in the placing of a monument to the Eleventh Mississippi Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg National Military Park.

In 2005 he published his first book, “Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation.” That year, he was also named the College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year. In 2009, he became director of the Center for Civil War Research, whose annual activities include hosting a conference of the Civil War era, awarding the Wiley-Silver prize for the best first book published on the Civil War era, and organizing the Burnham Lecture, which brings distinguished scholars of the Civil War era to campus to share their work.

Neff earned a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic University in 1989, a master’s degree from the University of California in 1993, and a Ph.D. from the University of California in 1998.

“Our University of Mississippi family is deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend, Dr. John Neff. He will be greatly missed,” said UM Provost Noel Wilkin on Twitter.

Noell Wilson, Chair of the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History and Croft Associate Professor of History and International Studies called Neff a “beloved colleague and friend” Friday.

“An award-winning lecturer and generous graduate mentor, he was the cornerstone of Civil War History at the University of Mississippi,” Wilson said. “In addition to his longstanding commitment to his students, he was a persistent scholar, close to completing an important new book on ghost stories and Civil War memory. He also served as a content expert in ongoing University discussions about contextualization and the relocation of the campus Confederate statue. We grieve his loss with the rest of the University community, the larger historical profession, and his wife Kathy, children Ben and Molly, and his extended family.”

Neff served on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context, whose work resulted in the placement of six contextualized plaques at various historic locations on campus and the renaming of Vardaman Hall.

“As I have said, we are the sum of all our decisions – all of those crossroads, the good and the bad,” Neff said in his keynote speech at a ceremony in 2018 to unveil the plaques. “We do not shrink from this. We embrace it. We do not shield our embarrassment, we offer it up. We do not deny any part of who we have been or who we are.”


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