Portuguese American Journal

Douglas Wheeler: Portuguese History and Culture Scholar died age 85 – Durham (NH)

Douglas L. Wheeler, an Emeritus Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire, who specialized in the history of Portugal and its former empire, has died age 85, his family has disclosed.

A celebration of his life will be held on March 25, 2023, at 2:00PM at the Community Church of Durham, (NH).

A distinguished American scholar in the history of Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking world, he was also known for his work on maritime history and European exploration. Some of his most notable publications include Republican Portugal: A Political History, 1910-1926, , and The Historical Dictionary of Portugal.  


Douglas Wheeler, University of New Hampshire emeritus professor of history, passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family on December 22, 2022, after a heart attack.

Wheeler, who made his home in Durham, N.H., was 85 years old. He was the erudite, gentle and wise partner-in-life of Durham’s political and social powerhouse, former State Senator Katie Wheeler.

Wheeler taught history at UNH for nearly 40 years, working in a number of different areas – African history, Portuguese history – colonial and modern, world history and the topical field of espionage.

UNH hired Wheeler in 1967 in an effort to globalize the History Department’s curriculum. In 1966, UNH applied for a National Defense Education Act grant for a summer school institute for history teachers. The National Defense Education Act was passed in 1958, spurred by the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite. The Cold War launch of Sputnik shocked Americans, who thought they had technological superiority over adversaries. The NDEA resulted and became one of the most successful legislative initiatives in higher education, establishing the legitimacy of federal funding of higher education and making substantial funds available for low-cost student loans, boosting public and private colleges and universities.

In its grant application, UNH noted the inadequacy of secondary school instruction in non-Western history by observing the poor preparation of undergraduates enrolled in its one-year world civilization course, which stressed Asian and African history and was a graduation requirement. UNH noted that especially in Northern New England, a considerable number of high school teachers were trained at its main campus and branches in Keene and Plymouth, which traditionally exported secondary school teachers to Vermont, Maine and Northern Massachusetts. UNH sought to improve history instruction by employing specialists and diversifying and enriching offerings in non-Western and Afro-Asian history. Wheeler received one of the NDEA grants and began teaching at UNH.

Wheeler’s early focus was on modern African history, especially Angola and Mozambique and later Iberian history, especially Portugal since 1850. He emphasized political history and the history of Angolan nationalism with later research on espionage and secret intelligence. He also studied protest movements and taught courses on African American history before UNH hired faculty specializing in the subject.

Past UNH colleague and Georgetown professor emeritus of Islamic history John Voll commented: “Wheeler made important contributions with an effective combination of in-depth and detailed analysis and a strong sense of the world historical contexts within which events take place.” Prof. Voll further stated: “Just listing his fields gives some indication of the intellectual breadth of Doug’s scholarly vision as well as his effectiveness in the study of specific events and people.”

Over the last four decades, Wheeler’s work has been published widely. He published seven books as author, co-author, or co-editor. Their topics included: the history of Angola (a Portuguese colony), the history of modern Portugal, the history of dictatorial Portugal, and historical dictionaries on Portugal. He was an editor of the Portuguese Studies Newsletter and the founding editor of the Portuguese Studies Review, which is now published in Canada.

Wheeler produced about 250 articles, review essays, or reviews in several dozen journals, magazines, and newspapers, including Foreign Affairs, USA Today Magazine, the Journal of Contemporary History, the Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. His scholarship has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese and French. Among many other honors, he was decorated by two Presidents of Portugal for scholarship and teaching on Portuguese history and culture (Order of Prince Henry the Navigator, 1993; Order of Liberty, 2004). In addition to UNH, he taught at Morgan State College, the University College of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Granite State College.

Wheeler earned an A.B. in history with high distinction from Dartmouth College in 1959, followed by an M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Boston University in 1960 and 1963. His doctoral dissertation was on 19th century colonial history of Angola, a Portuguese colony in West Central Africa. He received a Fulbright grant and was among the first Fulbright grantees in Portugal, where he taught at the University of Lisbon from 1961 to 1962. He later served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Intelligence which sparked a lifelong interest in issues of surveillance.

Douglas Lanphier Wheeler was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 19, 1937, the only child to Russel Wheeler, a dentist and author of the leading dentistry textbook – Wheeler’s Dental Anatomy, Physiology and Occlusion, currently in its 19th edition, and Lucille Lanphier Wengler, a homemaker. He graduated from St. Louis Country Day School. During summers home from Dartmouth, he crewed on Mississippi tow boats for the Hardy Salt Company. He also clerked at the Missouri Historical Society in what is now the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

Wheeler married Katherine (“Katie”) Graves Wells in St. Louis on June 13, 1964, the daughter of Benjamin Harrison Wells, chairman of The Seven Up Company, and Katherine Gladney Wells, a poet and composer. The couple realized from an inscription in Doug’s childhood bible that decades earlier, Katie’s mother had been Doug’s Sunday School teacher at Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, MO.

Doug was a lifelong lover of movies, theater and opera. At UNH, he and Katie wrote and participated in many faculty shows such as “Deans at Sea” featuring witty parody songs and dance numbers. Doug and Katie were regular subscribers to area theaters, including Seacoast Repertory (originally Theater by the Sea), as well as performances at the Opera House in Newport, NH, where Katie’s parents had a summer house. In recent decades, Doug and Katie were patrons of the Stratford Festival of Canada, making annual pilgrimages to Stratford, Ontario, for world-class theater.

Doug wrote poetry, drama and even published a children’s book – Rudolfoletto, the tale of an opera-loving reindeer, filled with clever song titles like “Proboscis Angelicus” (sung in celebration of Rudolfoletto’s usefully bright nose) and performed by at Seacoast Repertory Theater directed by Miles Burns.

Doug also researched extensively the life of Leslie Howard, famed actor in Gone with the Wind and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Howard was believed to be an Allied intelligence operative and shot down by the Nazis over the Atlantic while on a civilian passenger flight in 1943. Doug was working on a biography. Doug could recite the scripts and details of the several movie versions of Pimpernel. In recent years, the UNH Theater department workshopped scenes Doug wrote about Howard.

Doug was active in Durham community life, including as a trustee of the Durham Public Library, where he worked for years to move the library from a retail store front into a large, dedicated building on Madbury Road. Doug and Katie often spoke and wrote letters about many pending Durham Planning Board applications, including redevelopment of the Mill Road retail plaza and various private student dormitories.

Doug served as Historian and Council member for Community Church of Durham (and sang in the choir.) He delivered a “sermonette” in 2007 entitled “And Who is My Neighbor?” in which he related the parable of the Good Samaritan with real world examples of good Samaritans in the church community helping refugees abroad. He mentioned the Portuguese hero of conscience, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who in World War II became a little known Good Samaritan by issuing 10,000 visas for Jewish refugees in 1940 to escape the German armies and flee to Portugal and Spain. Sousa Mendes died in poverty and obscurity and his memory and heroism have only recently been acknowledged. Doug was passionate about creating a museum to Sousa Mendes to honor the man who embodied what it means to be a good neighbor.

After retiring from UNH, Doug taught classes at Granite State College and continued giving talks, such as “Spies in Time,” for NH Humanities and elsewhere. In recent years, Doug gave many “family seminars” on subjects including convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, the Walker Family Spy Ring and Colonial Powers in Africa.

Doug often talked about the historical value of obituaries. Doug noted obituaries generally concentrated facts and details missing from other historical sources.

He is survived by his wife, Katie, his daughter Meme Wheeler and son-in-law Robert Wheeler, his daughter Lucy Goodrum and son-in-law Garfield Goodrum, and his four granddaughters Emma Wheeler, Helen Wheeler, Cecily Goodrum and Katherine Goodrum.

A celebration of Doug’s life will be held on March 25, 2023, at 2:00PM at the Community Church of Durham. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Durham Public Library, 49 Madbury Road, Durham, NH 03824 or the Wheeler International Travel Fund at the University of New Hampshire which Doug established to help UNH faculty travel abroad for research and academic pursuits. Donations to the UNH Foundation, should note the intended fund, 9 Edgewood Road Durham, NH 03824 or link: https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1518/g20/form.aspx?sid=1518&gid=4&pgid=4546&cid=7739&dids=1145

Source: Concord Monitor

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