Longtime Wabash College history professor James J. Barnes publishes his memoir. Big Deal?

Historians in the News
tags: James J Barnes, Unforeseen, The First Blind Rhodes Scholar



Losing his sight made James J. Barnes a good listener.

In his classrooms at Wabash College, the students often had the floor, with Barnes focusing on their voices to lead discussions on diplomacy and 19th century Europe.

The longtime history professor shares his experiences of being a blind scholar and teacher in a new memoir, “Unforeseen: The First Blind Rhodes Scholar.”

“My personal philosophy has been to make the most of my strengths and minimize my weaknesses,” Barnes said.

Born with limited sight, the Minnesota native quickly stood out in the classroom for his love of learning. He had enough sight in high school to join the football team, even though he couldn’t always tell who was carrying the ball.

“I just decided to tackle whoever came my way,” he said with a laugh.

As an undergraduate at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Barnes was active in student organizations, becoming president of the student council. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.

During his first year at Oxford University, his sight gave out completely.

He and his wife, Patience, and two children, Jennifer and Geoffrey, moved to Crawfordsville in 1962 when Barnes joined Wabash’s history department. He taught courses in 19th century modern European history, historiography and diplomatic history. ...




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