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ECU professor receives honor for his interest in the nation's birth
(Dec. 14, 2000) — Dr. Lawrence E. Babits, an East Carolina University maritime history professor who says he's more partial to the plight of 18th century soldiers and sailors than to early aristocrats with titles, now has one himself.
Babits is the newly named George Washington Distinguished Professor of History, an honor given to only one other North Carolinian by the state's chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati.
It is a lifetime title that recognizes a recipient's interest in the founding era of the nation, according to the presenters of the award at a ceremony at ECU this week. Included with the recognition is $10,000 to fund research over a three-year period.
"Dr. Babits was our ideal choice," said William P. Cheshire of Washington, N.C., a former president of the Society of the Cincinnati and the chairman of the organization's selection committee.
Cheshire presented the award. The program also included comments by James Cheatham, a Greenville attorney and the current state president of the society, and by Dr. Keats Sparrow, dean of the ECU College of Arts and Sciences, the society's historian. Babits succeeds Dr. Don Higginbotham, a professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill. Higginbotham was the first state's first recipient of the title in 1997. Fifteen professors hold the title nationwide.
"It shocked me," Babits said in explaining how he felt when he learned that he had been selected for the recognition. He said his work has always focused on the average soldier, the privates, who did their duty during the Revolutionary War, and stuck it out and saw it through.
"Think about the number of people who wear glasses today and now consider how many people you know who wore glasses when our country was founded," he said. "There was George Washington and Ben Franklin but the average person didn't have them."
"I will use the money to look at the common soldiers, the privates, who lived and fought under conditions that most people don't think about." The ECU professor is the author of the popular Revolutionary War book "A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens."
He is especially interested in "living history" that teaches through the experience of recreating and living the conditions that existed during periods of American?s past. Last year, he participated as a re-enactor in the making of the Revolutionary War movie "The Patriot," starring Mel Gibson. A small group of Continental Army offices that fought in the American Revolution organized the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783. The society's name commemorates Lucius Cincinnatus, a 5th century BC Roman senator, farmer and military leader who left his farm on two occasions to lead the Roman military.
Currently there are about 3,500 active membership organizations in 12 states. Headquarters for the society is Anderson House in Washington, D.C.
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