As an undergraduate at Carolina, John Britton ’65 worked part-time at Wilson Library shelving books. All the sorting and stacking got Britton deeply familiar with the library, and he enjoyed being immersed in the bookshelves of Wilson as he sifted through the library’s collections.
Out of curiosity one day, he picked up a book written in 1923 by a journalist named Carleton Beals. Britton had taken several Latin American history courses, and he was fascinated by Beals’s perspective on the Mexican Revolution. There was no way Britton could have known it at the time, but this was one of those small moments that had huge ramifications for Britton’s future career in academia.
Twenty years later, as a history professor at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, Britton contacted Beals and discovered that the journalist had retained a huge trove of his papers. Britton ultimately decided to write and publish a biography of Beals and his perspective on Latin American politics.
“My interest in Beals, and ultimately the biography I produced, came from roaming around in the library and just stumbling upon something,” Britton said.
Britton, now an emeritus professor at Francis Marion, was the recipient of a scholarship while at Carolina that paid for one-third of his tuition. He has long thought about how he could repay the University for that scholarship, and he has also frequently remembered the value of having the access to resources that the library afforded him.
This year, Dr. Britton established an estate gift to the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of History that will fund academic research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Recipients will be able to access funds to conduct historical research such as exploring library archives or traveling to examine historical documents.
“My goal is to help students have an experience similar to what I had,” Britton said. “I want to help create a situation where young people can just explore and enjoy the environment that exists on campus. I think that’s when you are able to open your mind and see things that you might not if you are in a course and focused on a deadline for a test or a paper.”
Britton recalled the slower pace of his summers at Carolina, when he would take one course and have ample time to dive into research. He hopes that his gift will afford students with time and latitude to approach research topics with a fresh perspective.
“When it dawned on me that we could make a gift, I wanted to give back to the institution that helped me,” Britton said. “I have been very lucky, and it’s a positive feeling to share my good fortune with others.”