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Historical researcher pays visit to Akron sites

11/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Historical researcher Michael Hill listens as Summit County Historical Society President and CEO Leianne Neff Heppner explains some of the displays at the John Brown House.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — A University of Akron (UA) Law School graduate who has made a name for himself as a historical researcher made time during an Akron visit to see some of the city’s most notable historic sites Nov. 13.

Michael Hill, 60, of Fredericksburg, Va., was in town to be the featured speaker at the John and Nancy Heslop Lecture at UA, as well as for an appearance at the “Author! Author!” event at Our Lady of the Elms.

Before those activities, he spent the morning at the Summit County Historical Society and visited the Perkins Mansion and the John Brown House, where President and CEO Leianne Neff Heppner gave him a personal tour of the sites and their artifacts.

Sites like that didn’t really make it onto his radar when he was in Akron for law school from 1979 to 1983, Hill said.

“I’m really so impressed with what this historical society is doing in outreach and presentation,” he said. “It’s great to get out the message of the people from Akron.”

Hill grew up in Warren and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Kent State University. He was an intern for U.S. Rep. John Seiberling and a press assistant for Vice President Walter Mondale, and received a master’s in public administration from Harvard University.

After working in politics, he decided he didn’t want to run for office and wanted to become a researcher. He wrote to historian David McCullough, and McCullough was so impressed by his letter that he asked if they could meet. Hill began doing research for McCullough.

“Over the course of a year, he gave me a good tutorial in historical research and I just loved it,” Hill said.

He ended up assisting McCullough with several of his books, including “John Adams,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an HBO miniseries.

McCullough also introduced Hill to documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in 1984, just as he was about to start on his groundbreaking PBS series “The Civil War.” Hill was a co-producer on the project, for which he won an Emmy.

That was not something he ever considered would come from his work, he said, adding the award is in his home office and makes “a terrific hat rack for my tattered Boston Red Sox cap.”

During his visit, Hill signed copies of his book “Elihu Washburn,” a just-published account of the American diplomat appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 who aided his countrymen and other foreign nationals when Paris was devastated by war.

He’s currently working with McCullough on a book about the Wright Brothers that is slated for publication in 2015, as well as assisting on research for authors Michael Korda and Nathaniel Philbrick.

Hill also continues to work on his book about a group of men who were friends and classmates in 1910 at Harvard that included writer T.S. Eliot, journalist Walter Lippman, Ernst Hanfstaengl (who became a confidant of Adolph Hitler) and American Communist John Reed.

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