A Historian's Lifetime of Service

Writer: 
June 1, 2008
Holley: acknowledging his eponymous honor.

Holley: acknowledging his eponymous honor. Jon Gardiner

Over the past six decades, I.B. Holley has touched the lives, and the academic careers, of hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Duke Magazine has run several short articles over the years notifying alumni of his latest doings, and each has been met with a wave of letters, testimonials to Holley's impact in the classroom and beyond.

But in focusing on his Duke tenure, it's easy to forget the significant impact that Holley, a professor emeritus of history who focuses on military and intellectual history, has had elsewhere. This past winter, Holley was honored by the Air Force Historical Foundation, which established the Major General I.B. Holley Award to honor individuals who have made "a sustained, significant contribution to the documentation of Air Force history during a lifetime of service." Holley himself was the first recipient of the award.

Holley, now eighty-eight, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served on active duty for five years, establishing himself as a standout aerial gunnery instructor and rising to the rank of captain.

After retiring from active duty, he joined the faculty at Duke, where he developed an upper-level course in intellectual history that was popular with generations of undergraduates, and also lectured on military history, among other topics. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the U.S. Army sent a number of officers to Duke to study under Holley on the way to earning doctorates.

Holley remained in the Air Force Reserve until retiring as a major general in 1981. During that time, he wrote several manuals on military procurement and worked with Air Force staff members to improve training programs for instructors. He has lectured on military doctrine and technology before four branches of the U.S. military, as well as the NATO staff college in Rome and Britain's Royal Air Force, all while juggling research and teaching duties at Duke.

Even in retirement, he has continued to serve on the editorial boards of the Air Force Journal of Logistics and the Air Force's flagship Air & Space Power Journal, as well as on a Department of Defense declassification panel with several other historians. "All this stuff gets classified, and sometimes it doesn't need to be or doesn't need to stay classified," Holley says. In 2004, he published a collection of essays on the relationship between technology and military doctrine that was based on years of lectures. In naming the new award after Holley, the Air Force Historical Foundation recognized his "decades of assistance, support, and encouragement of military historians."

Though he technically retired from Duke in 1989, Holley continued to teach undergraduates until just last year. Even now, he produces academic articles regularly. In the past several years, he has written articles about industrial processes, including one on the mechanization of brick making, and has completed a manuscript about how to conduct seminars, a topic he knows better than most.