Who is Michael Robinson?
(Based on an article by Howard Rosen, Ph. D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which appeared in the March 1999 APWA Reporter.)
The Michael C. Robinson Award was established by the Public Works Historical Society (PWHS) to honor a highly respected historian and former APWA staff member. The foundation of Dr. Robinson’s work for APWA and later for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was his firm belief that history was to be used to help engineers function more effectively. According to his friend and former APWA colleague, Dr. Howard Rosen, "His goal was to 'put history in the service of the profession'—to provide a living link between professional generations that would enlighten and ennoble the actions of public works engineers that they and the public had come to take as mundane and commonplace."
Robinson, who died of a heart attack in 1998 at age 55, served in various capacities on APWA's staff from 1972 to 1982. He was instrumental in forming the Public Works Historical Society, eventually served as its executive secretary, acted as a research coordinator, and served as staff secretary for the Institute for Buildings and Grounds and the Council on Emergency Management.
Chief among his accomplishments at APWA was his involvement with three major books: History of Public Works in the United States: 1776-1976, a work commissioned for the United States' bicentennial; Water for the West, a study of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and Public Works History in the United States, an annotated bibliography. These works and collaboration with APWA's Executive Director, Robert D. Bugher, and Suellen M. Hoy, as well as several biographical sketches for the APWA Reporter, "Essays in Public Works History," newsletters and oral histories, contributed to the establishment of PWHS as a significant program in applied history.
After leaving APWA Dr. Robinson relocated to Mississippi and became the first historian of the Mississippi River Commission/Lower Mississippi Valley Division (LMVD) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1994, he also assumed the position of Chief of Public Affairs for the LMVD, which he maintained until his death.
He was able to combine his earlier APWA experience in emergency management with opportunities as historian for the Corps. Robinson's observations and documentation of decisions made by commanders as they battled Mississippi River floods earned him a place as a valued member of the emergency management team. Later he conducted a series of oral histories on the battles to control the Mississippi River floods, which reflected his belief that history could be used to document and analyze experience so that the knowledge gained through events would not be lost.
Robinson was a native of Kingman, Kansas, and held a bachelor's degree from Southwest College in Winfield, Kansas (where he earned All-American honors as an offensive lineman); and earned his doctorate from the University of Wyoming in 1974. He was married to Diane Armstrong Robinson, with whom he had five children: Gwendolyn, Meghan, Kathryn, Sean and Sam. He was also an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served as bishop of the Vicksburg (Mississippi) Ward.
Besides the PWHS literary award, an award from the National Council on Public History also bears Robinson's name. That prize recognizes historians who make significant contributions in helping to improve public policy. Robinson also was a recipient of the American Society of Civil Engineers Heritage Award and was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.
In the words of historian and friend Mickey Schubert, Robinson "remained an exemplar of the practicing historian, never compromising his integrity for the sake of expediency and always providing historical analysis of the highest quality."