Randolph B. 'Mike' Campbell, Professor Emeritus of history -- who redefined the model for grassroots research in the field and changed the way Texas' past is understood -- died Aug. 13. He retired in 2019 after teaching at UNT for 53 years.
“He served as a leading force in transforming the UNT history department into a research powerhouse, an exemplar of compassionate teaching and an incubator of innovative graduate teaching,” history professor Andrew Torget said in a statement.
Earning his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, Dr. Campbell taught at Virginia Tech before coming to UNT in 1966.
And it was here that he left his mark as a teacher and as a historian.
“Campbell’s greatest legacy may have been his teaching and mentoring,” Torget wrote. “Virtually no one could hold a lecture hall in rapt attention like Campbell, and his massive sections of U.S. history were frequently oversubscribed with eager students.”
In 1988, Campbell was named Regents Professor. And, in 2013, he received two big honors -- he was named the inaugural Lone Star Chair in Texas History and he received the UNT Foundation Eminent Faculty Award, honoring outstanding and sustained contributions to scholarly creative activity, teaching and service.
"The key to teaching and being a historian is not just knowing the material,” Campbell said upon receiving his award. “It's a matter of constantly trying to draw people into the material and letting them know that it matters. I think I'm a better teacher because I'm a researcher and I'm a better researcher because I'm a teacher."
He would research the lives of everyday people by digging through records in county courthouses and local archives, Torget said, and his iconic work examined Texas' connection to the South, including the history and legacy of slavery in the state.
Campbell’s published books include:
- Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State
- Wealth and Power in Antebellum Texas, with UNT colleague Richard G. Lowe
- A Southern Community in Crisis: Harrison County Texas, 1850-1880
- An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865
- Sam Houston and the American Southwest
- Grass-Roots Reconstruction in Texas, 1865-1880
A collection of essays written by historians honoring his work, This Corner of Canaan: Essays on Texas in Honor of Randolph B. Campbell, was published in 2013.
He was active in the Texas State Historical Association, which he served as president from 1993 to 1994 and as the first chief historian from 2008 to 2017; wrote dozens of entries for its Handbook of Texas and revised or reviewed thousands more. His duties included spearheading projects such as the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Handbook of Civil War Texas, Handbook of African American Texas and Handbook of Tejano History.
He also was a fellow of the Texas Philosophical Society, the Texas Institute of Letters and the East Texas Historical Association.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Diana Campbell, who was a staffer at UNT, mostly working in the dean’s office in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Memorial services will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 20, at DeBerry Funeral Home, 2025 W. University Dr. in Denton.