Professor Named Oregon Researcher of the Year

The Oregon Academy of Science honored Willamette University political science Professor Richard Ellis as its 2007 Outstanding Oregon Researcher.

Ellis is the Mark O. Hatfield Professor of Politics at Willamette, where he has taught American politics since 1990. He has written or edited a dozen books on the American presidency and political culture.

His most recent book, "To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance," has been featured on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" and in newspapers across the country. It was selected as a Citizens Read book of the month in Portland, was the Library Journal's best-selling book in politics and law, won the 2005 Langum Prize in Legal History and won an honorable mention from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. "To the Flag" is a compelling history of how the Pledge of Allegiance developed in response to anxieties about immigration and "alien" ideas such as Communism.

Ellis is now immersed in his next book project, a history of presidential travel. "In the early republic, Americans pointed with pride to the lack of a presidential entourage or presidential security detail," Ellis said. "Monarchs and emperors needed armed guards, but the American president needed no protection from his fellow citizens."

Ellis' narrative details the evolution of presidential protection and the way the growth in the president's security entourage has tended to insulate the president from the people. "The modern president may be safer, but also appears more regal," Ellis suggests.

His research includes contacting historical societies, studying presidential papers and searching hundreds of 19th century newspapers. "Now that many historical newspapers are digitized, it has transformed the way historians and political scientists conduct research," Ellis said. "A 10-year project can become a two-year project."

"Writing is a habit, and while I enjoy research, I'm always eager to get started writing. It's a back and forth process. I use the writing to find out what I don't know and where I need to do more research."

The academy has broadened its scope this year to include people in the social and political sciences. "I'm delighted that the nomination has gone to someone in the social sciences," said Jeff Myers, president of the Oregon Academy of Science and geology professor at Western Oregon University. "In the past, awards have gone to people in the hard sciences. It's nice to see the academy expanding."

"Ellis' students are clearly lucky to share his insight and experience, and Willamette University is equally fortunate to have Ellis as a colleague," Myers said, adding that Ellis was "enthusiastically chosen."

The Oregon Academy of Science promotes science education and scientific research in the state, encouraging communication among Oregon scientists and mentoring new generations of scientists in Oregon high schools.