Patrick Otim, a lecturer in history, has a life-sized cutout of Frederick Douglass in his Pettengill Hall office.
The cutout was created early last fall by the history faculty as a way to reach out to prospective history majors in the Class of 2020. Then it moved into Otim’s office.
A native of northern Uganda, Otim attended high school at Sacred Heart Seminary in the city of Gulu, where the library had a picture of Frederick Douglass along with this quote: “Some men know the value of education by having it. I know its value by not having it.”
Otim says that his younger self knew that the picture and quote were “strategically placed in our library to inspire us to take our studies seriously.” Still he didn’t completely grasp the quote’s meaning back then.
But, “the name Frederick Douglass stuck with me.”
Meaning came to him in graduate school. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. There, he says, he understood why his high school “chose Douglass and that quote to be in our library.”
When Otim looks at the Douglass cutout in his office today, “it transports me back to when I was in the seminary. Some of the memories are good, some bad.”
He recalls the peaceful, idyllic setting that provided him with a chance for prayer and reflection. He also recalls that it was a time of violence at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army. “Some of my classmates were arrested by the rebels,” he says, and some of his friends died.
“I can’t stop thinking about these guys, that connection.”
Even today, his Ugandan high school doesn’t have any of Douglass’ several autobiographies. “I plan to buy a few copies and take them back with me in the summer. I am sure they will like them.”
A Mellon Diversity and Faculty Renewal Postdoctoral Fellow at Bates this year, Otim is working on a book manuscript of his dissertation, “Forgotten Voices of the Transition: Precolonial Intellectuals and the Colonial State in Northern Uganda, 1850–1950.” He will be promoted to assistant professor of history in the fall.