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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. J. Gill Holland, Professor Emeritus of English

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 15:02

Even if students do not know him by name, they are likely to find Dr. Holland, the gentleman seated in the cozy area by the stairs on the first floor of the library, a familiar face. Although he retired from teaching in 2004, Dr. Holland frequents the library to read newspapers, write letters and his favorite: talk to students.

Holland spent his first three years at Washington and Lee as a pre-medical student, but his love of literature and language led him to change his course and graduate with a degree in English. Encouraged by the high demand for PhDs in the late 1950s, Dr. Holland enrolled in a graduate program at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Holland’s started at Davidson in 1961, drawn to the insightful students and the strong honor system. In the later 1960s, Holland taught at Duke, University of Houston, and University of Redlands. Dr. Holland returned to Davidson in 1967, citing Davidson’s emphasis on teaching and opportunities for travel as the chief reasons for his return.

When asked about his travel, Dr. Holland lights up. Most of Holland’s early travel led him to China and Taiwan, where he taught American and British Literature in a classroom illuminated by a single light and furnished with just seating and a blackboard. Holland and his wife witnessed the tragedy at Tiananmen Square, recognizing several students from his classes. He recalls specifically one protesting student who came to him for help on a paper on The Great Gatsby. Holland asked him, “Why are you here, shouldn’t you be fleeing?” The student replied, “I want to write a good paper before I die.”

Dr. Holland returned to Davidson fluent in Chinese, which subsequently led him to design Davidson’s Chinese literature and translation course. While teaching, Dr. Holland also served as the faculty sponsor for PiKA and worked out regularly with the wrestling team. Over the course of his 40 years at Davidson, Dr. Holland saw campus go co-ed and grow increasingly diverse. Dr. Holland encourages students to reach out to one another and appreciate the different perspectives among the student body.

When asked for more advice on how to make the most of one’s college experience, Dr. Holland immediately replied, “study abroad!” Second, he suggests that students audit classes. Dr. Holland audited many classes in his college career, primarily in foreign language. His knowledge of Norweigen came in handy when he met his wife-to-be. “I’m married to a Viking,” he says with a smile. He gushes when recalling his trips to Norway, the fjords of the Lofoten Islands. Dr. Holland has written extensively on all of his travels and continues to write today; he currently has a collection of poems in the works. Take a moment to ask him about his writing, travel, and teaching experiences next time you enter the first floor, since as Dr. Holland points out, there are no signs that say, “silence!”

BONUS VIDEO : DIA interviews Dr. Holland about building international connections.

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