ASC Honors – Dan Morrill, History

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ASC Honors-Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Arts, Science or History celebrates the lifetime achievements of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg resident in the visual, design or performing arts, history, literature or science. Thanks to the generosity of the Cato Corporation, ASC is also able to honor lifetime achievement in teaching art, science and history for Pre-K-12 teachers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region with the ASC Honors-Cato Lifetime Achievement in Teaching Awards. 

By Bea Quirk

For Dr. Dan Morrill, history isn’t about learning a list of facts or timelines. It’s about living. “If you have no sense of history, it’s like living in a room without windows,” he says.

Dr. Dan Morrill is honored for lifetime achievement with the ASC Honors award.

As a history professor at UNC Charlotte since 1963 and consulting director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission since 1974, Morrill has created a plethora of windows in the lives of both his students and the larger Charlotte community.

Morrill earned his B.A. in history at Wake Forest, followed by his master’s degree and doctorate at Emory University.

When he first came to UNCC nearly 50 years ago, his field was Russian history; he is now the longest serving faculty member in the school’s history. He become interested in historic preservation – which he now calls “cultural resource management” – in 1966 after Great Society legislation was passed promoting it.

Since Morrill helped start the Historic Landmarks Commission, it has deemed more than 300 properties as historic, about 25% of the state’s total. His proudest achievement happened in 1999 when voters approved the creation of the largest publicly-funded revolving historic preservation trust fund in the U.S. “We created a level of legitimacy for historic preservation in this community,” he observes.

Morrill is probably best known for bringing the trolley back to Charlotte, which many believe was the catalyst for the introduction of light rail. “I never saw it as a way to get light rail,” he says. “I wanted to bring something playful and joyful to Charlotte.”

Morrill is now in a phased retirement at UNC Charlotte and will teach his last class in spring 2014. He plans to stay on with the Landmarks Commission. In recent years, he has turned to video production and has also completed an oral history project featuring World War II survivors.

“I’m grateful to this community because it has allowed me to be a non-traditional pathfinder,” Morrill says. “But I don’t consider myself at the end of my career. I think more about what I am going to do tomorrow than about what I did yesterday.”

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