Feller Balances Work, Broader Interests
Dan Feller has been known to go into a shoe store and buy every pair of size 8 ½ Converse sneakers in stock. When they were out of style and hard to find, Feller "bootlegged" them from a guy known only as "Gary" in St. Louis.
When Levi Strauss seemed poised to phase out its corduroy pants, he bought a 15-year supply.
"My ideas of what I’m comfortable in were fixed about 30 years ago. And now I guess it’s become my trademark style – or trademark anti-style," says Feller, a history professor and director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson project at UT.
How would he describe this uniform that’s been his calling card for decades?
"Disheveled," he muses.
It’s a curious personal signature for a guy whose work must be so meticulous.
The Jackson papers project began in 1971 at UT and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, part of the National Archives. The project’s mission is to collect and publish every known and available Jackson document, including letters he wrote and received, official and military papers, drafts, memoranda, legal papers, and financial records.
The seventh of 17 planned volumes of Jackson papers was published late last year by UT Press. The 800-page book includes more than 450 documents from 1829, the first year of Jackson’s presidency. Feller expects it will take 20 to 25 more years to finish the project.
"That sounds like a long time," he said. "But it’s really only a bit more than two years per volume, which in this field is fast work."
From 1983 to 1986, Feller was the assistant editor of the Jackson papers project, which was then housed at the Hermitage in Nashville. After 17 years away, teaching history at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, he returned to UT in 2003 as a professor of history and became director of the papers project, now headquartered in Hoskins Library.
Teaching a graduate seminar, maintaining regular department duties and editing the papers amounts to juggling two jobs at once. But Feller said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Editing a presidential papers project "can be intellectually confining. You have to make an effort to keep your horizons broader."
Feller does that by pursuing his personal passions – music and outdoor activities, including bicycle touring and mountain hiking.
Admittedly a "child of the Sixties," Feller is a fan of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and his very favorite band – the Velvet Underground, a group managed for a time by artist Andy Warhol and credited with having a huge influence on later genres ranging from new wave to glam rock.
During graduate school, Feller worked as a tour guide at three historic sites, one a national park. A Civil War buff, he still loves visiting battlegrounds and other historic areas.
And when he can do it on foot or by bike – wearing his Converse sneakers, of course – it’s even better.
"I’ve always been able to combine my academic interest in history, my recreational interests and my interest in historic sites," he says.
Dan Feller, a history professor and director of the Andrew Jackson Papers project, was the lead scholar on "Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil and the Presidency," a PBS documentary that aired nationwide on Jan. 2. Feller lives in Knoxville with his wife, Claudia Dean, a craft jeweler, and their 13-year-old daughter, Daisy.