Wittenberg graduate John Mohr, class of 2012, recently received the first-ever Wayne Flynt Endowed Graduate Award in Alabama History and Culture from Auburn University in Alabama, where he’s currently a Ph.D. candidate concentrating on the history of technology.
Mohr, originally from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, majored in history and German and was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha during his time at Wittenberg. He is working on his dissertation examining the linkages between the auto industry, technological utopianism and political realignment in the American South in the late 20th century. In his dissertation research, Mohr seeks to understand the relationship between Southern society and foreign automakers, including Mercedes-Benz and Kia Motors.
Currently an instructor at Auburn, Mohr has taught classes in both world history and in technology and civilization.
“In the future, I'd like to continue my teaching career and also my research into the history of the auto industry,” he said. “I became interested in this topic because I've always had a passion for cars. When I moved to the South, I was surrounded by auto parts plants for the South's new auto industry. I was also able to observe the older industries that were dying or in decline, like the textile industry.”
Mohr realized that in the South, the auto industry was being presented by political leaders as a kind of “panacea for all sorts of problems.”
“I decided I'd talk about the industrial history of the South from the perspective of social and political history,” he said. “In the history of technology, there has been a lot of research into technological utopianism and how certain technologies can ‘save’ societies. Having auto factories is supposed to be a way to make the Southern states look modern to outsiders, and also make the South wealthier and less impoverished. But that hasn't always worked out - wages in the South have risen, but there are still lots of problems with poverty, education and racism.”
According to an Auburn University press release, the award provides a stipend for a graduate student to research and publish on subjects that will enrich knowledge of Alabama’s past and contribute to the teachings of Alabama history from fourth grade into university classes.
Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus in the department of history at Auburn University, is the author of 13 books, and one of the most recognized and honored scholars of Southern history, politics and religion.
“I was surprised and very pleased,” Mohr said upon receiving notice about the award. “Dr. Flynt is one of the greatest historians Alabama has ever produced, and it was really amazing to hear that he liked my work. I'm glad to know him and grateful to have his endorsement of my work.”
Mohr was presented the award during a November 2017 ceremony at the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities at Pebble Hill in Auburn.
“The education I received at Wittenberg inspired me with a love of learning and encouraged me to go on to graduate school,” Mohr said. “Because of my professors at Wittenberg, I was inspired to teach and do research at the college level. Teaching not just basic facts, but ways of thinking about historical problems, is something I learned at Wittenberg. I consider that to be the core of what I do: teach people to think about why the world is the way that it is, not just one version of events.”
Mohr also shared another story related to Wittenberg. His grandmother, Nancy Mohr, who passed away last year, donated her beloved Steinway piano to the university.
“She donated the piano to Wittenberg because it was my alma mater, and she wanted to support music education,” he said. “The piano is now housed in the music department where it's available for student and faculty use. She was very passionate about education and about music, so it's a great memorial to her to have her piano in use at Wittenberg.”