Luther Spoehr, senior lecturer emeritus in education, remembers the cliche lines his former colleague Howard Chudacoff would use when introducing himself to students at the start of each semester — including self-deprecating references to his athletic career growing up.
“I used to be 6 foot 4, but then I got married and settled down,” Chudacoff would often say, according to Spoehr.
Chudacoff will retire at the end of this semester, concluding his 53rd year at Brown as a professor of American History. He spent his undergraduate and graduate years at the University of Chicago — earning a doctorate degree in history in 1969 — and began working at Brown in 1970.
Chudacoff’s career at Brown coincided with the early years of the Open Curriculum, which was introduced in 1969. “I was a little bit overwhelmed at first by all of the freedom. But I came to realize quite early that, at Brown, almost all the students who took my courses are there because they wanted to be there,” he said. “I wanted to make my commitments to those students, and that has held true for the 53 years that I've been here.”
For most of his career, Chudacoff has taught American urban history. But his research began to evolve to “more social and cultural” topics such as the history of family and individual life.
Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Chudacoff worked in a warehouse where he remembers interacting “with all kinds of people from the Midwest.”
“Getting to know them and work with them got me interested in people — in their styles of life, their roles, their attitudes or beliefs,” he said. “I carried that on through … college and graduate school, and it became really the focus of my research.”
Chudacoff’s work extends to several published books, including: “How Old Are You?: Age Conciousness in American Culture,” “The Age of the Bachelor,” “Children at Play” and “Changing the Playbook: How Power, Profit, and Politics Transformed College Sports.”
“With books on urban history, American childhood, bachelorhood, age consciousness and the NCAA, he was an extraordinarily productive scholar,” Spoehr wrote in an email to The Herald. “Pretty good legacy, I’d say.”
From 2000 to 2020, Chudacoff served as Brown’s Faculty Athletics Representative to the NCAA, attending their annual meetings. He was also a three-year member the main rulemaking body for Ivy League sports teams.
At Brown, Chudacoff served as the faculty advisor to several sports teams, including women’s basketball, softball and golf. In this role, he provided athletes with academic advice about courses and concentrations, as well as occasionally attending practices and games.
This semester, Chudacoff has taught a sophomore seminar, HIST 0656A: “History of Intercollegiate Athletics” — one of the two different sports history courses he has taught at Brown.
“I wasn't that much of an athlete as a younger person, but I played a lot of sports and I followed a lot of sports,” he said. “All the way back in the early 1980s, I thought it’d be interesting to develop a course on the history of sports in America because, after all, it’s a very important cultural issue and topic.”
Spoehr also taught a sports history course with Chudacoff for over 10 years. “When he suggested that we develop and team-teach a course on the history of intercollegiate athletics, I jumped at the chance,” he wrote. Chudacoff “was always prepared, thoughtful and patient, and, needless to say, very knowledgeable. It was a joy to work with him.”
Spoehr particularly noted the influence of Chudacoff’s presence in the classroom.
As Brown began to emphasize its identity as a research university, “Howard helped to justify Brown’s claims that it still values undergraduate education,” Spoeher wrote. “In the classroom, as an advisor, as a thesis director, his students could be sure that he cared about them and they were being taught well.”
During his lengthy tenure at Brown, Chudacoff said he has seen the school evolve, including expansions to the physical campus and academic offerings. Serving under six different presidents during his tenure, Chudacoff said that “the one continuous factor of what's kept me at Brown has been really the students.”
Brown students have “been my inspiration and my commitment for all of the years that I've been here, and I've appreciated every one of them,” he said.
This appreciation is returned by several of Chudacoff’s students.
“He takes the time to get to know every student and provide any and all advice he is able to give,” Serena Pulopot ’25 wrote in a message to The Herald. “He is also the first professor at Brown University to recognize me outside of class hours and I think that many people will agree, you never forget those professors.”
For Xavier Silva ’25, a member of Brown’s football team, Chudacoff’s ability to remember little details about his students makes him unique. “He's very personable and he makes you feel like your voice is heard,” Silva said. “He’s a real cool person.”
Through his many roles, Chudacoff said he has made “a lot of good friends … that I'm still in touch with.” He particularly treasures moments such as being invited to the weddings of his former students.
Looking into the future, Chudacoff said he hopes to keep himself busy during retirement.
“I have one project that I have to do between May and August, and I’ve started doing some volunteer work,” Chudacoff said, adding that he will be splitting time between Providence and Cape Cod. “I may spend some time on campus going to lectures and programs and stuff, it’s very fluid at this point.”
“It’s been a terrific 53 years at Brown … I really will miss it,” Chudacoff said. “I really will miss the students and inspiration that I’ve gotten from them.”