John Alexander came to the University of Cincinnati in 1969 from his native Oregon via Chicago. During his sojourn in the Windy City he acquired excellent training in early American history at the University of Chicago, where he worked with the noted scholar Jesse Lemische, and life-long membership in that most pitiable of all sports groups: the forlorn fans of the Chicago Cubs.
Since he arrived at the end of the 1960s and is leaving now in the 2010s, John can claim the distinction of having taught in the Department of History in six succeeding decades. His was a career notable for its overall excellence and well-roundedness. The publication in 1980 of his monograph on the responses to poverty in Philadelphia in the last half of the 18th century firmly established his national reputation as a historian of the Early American Republic. There followed a large number of articles in scholarly journals and a second book on the newspaper coverage of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. John's dogged research over the past decade into the life of Samuel Adams bore fruit in 2011 when his biography of that important "American revolutionary" appeared. The book has already won impressive accolades, including selection as an "editor's pick" by the History Book Club and as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.
John's commitment to professional service to the department, the university, and the community has always been strong. Over the years he has served on innumerable committees and taken on a variety of departmental chores, some of them the kind that his colleagues shunned as tedious or too time-consuming. John could always be counted on to make a thorough study of any proposals for academic change or reform. He was a man of principle and refused to accept a pragmatic solution when it violated those principles. On many issues he was the conscience of the department, although he from time to time ended up as a lone voice crying in the wilderness. But he always yielded gracefully to the majority and did not gloat when, from time to time, his warnings about the dire consequences to be expected as a result of certain changes proved justified. As a lecturer in the Greater Cincinnati area John has been indefatigable. The list of school, church, and community groups to which he has spoken is impressively large. On the national level he served a long term as a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.
As a classroom teacher John Alexander can have had few equals at the University of Cincinnati. He has won all the available teaching awards, including the Dolly Cohen, Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Ohio Academy of History award. He had a particularly strong commitment to the American history survey course, of which he annually taught a large section. Students clearly respected and admired Professor Alexander for his dedication, enthusiasm, and oratorical skill. For many students his classes were the highpoint of their career at UC, as can be seen in the numerous unsolicited letters they later sent to him or the Department. John had a natural classroom presence that suggests he might have pursued a successful career on the stage. Students appreciated and were inspired by some of his creative teaching methods, such as when he appeared in class dressed as a representative figure from the American Revolution, one day arguing the British point of view, the next day the American. John was a popular teacher despite his reputation as a hard grader: there were no easy A's in his classes. Nor did he ever rest on his laurels. He constantly revised his lectures to incorporate the latest scholarship, and considered it a point of honor always to make sure his final lecture in the survey brought the narrative up to the present day.
In retirement John will probably want to finish off one or two history projects, in which he will have the encouragement of his wife, June, herself an accomplished historian. There will surely be time to devote to his hobbies and passions: tennis, Jane Austen, his collection of historical posters and ephemera (especially dealing with Pearl Harbor), and, alas, the Chicago Cubs.