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Robert Crout

Professor Robert Crout


Exploring Charleston's "French Connection"
By Dana Branche

The American Revolution figures James Madison and the French General Lafayette have long fascinated history professor Robert Crout. His research has taken him to Princeton and Harvard and here to the College of Charleston.

Dr. Crout has impressive publications to his name, most recently as co-editor of "Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790, Vol. V." He also co-edited books on the papers of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Crout made Charleston his home in January, 2000, moving from Georgia to better research the "Charleston connection" between Lafayette, the man in which most of his research revolves around, and the Holy City.

In his research, Crout explores the importance of Lafayette in American history. "It is important for people to know that he was the first Frenchman to come to the aid of the American Revolutionary cause."

Crout relates how the United Sates Congress commissioned Lafayette a major general and by 1777 he had become a hero. He chose to risk his life to fight a war on the other side of the world, and it was Charleston where he first resided.

Today, Crout has a vault of manuscripts dedicated to General Lafayette. This is one of the many teaching tools Crout uses to make history both meaningful and interesting to students.

Crout's ambition to research General Lafayette comes, in part, by his perception that many people don't understand the Frenchman"s contributions to American history. He continues to seek new information about Lafayette and shares his findings with both scholars and students.

"It's amazing how many people know about this amazing man, but do not know one thing he stood for," Crout says. "This is why I'm here to show the link between Charleston and Lafayette, in other words "the Charleston connection."

Crout says he has always known that history was his passion. He remembers as a youngster,"as early as elementary school I was eight years old and my great aunt made me a Halloween costume that resembled that of a colonial settler. I knew from at that point I was hooked, and history was always something that would interest me."

He holds master's and doctorate degrees in history from the University of Georgia. His Ph.D. dissertation was titled, "The Diplomacy of Trade: The Influence of Commercial Considerations on French Involvement in the Angloamerican War of Independence, 1771-1778."

He views his research as "my life." He says, "Finding new things is like finding a connection in life...putting things together. Instead of studying a rock or an amphibian, I study the most fascinating thing of all: human beings".

Crout's research has allowed him to look deeper into the men he studies, and he credits technology as the tool that has helped advance his findings. "It's funny, professors who taught me never had the ability to conduct the in-depth research that I can. It's wonderful where technology can take you and what you can learn."

A true pursuer of history, after a 14 year wait, his in-depth studies had finally given him the honor of becoming the first American invited to see the Lafayette family archives in Paris. His research has allowed him to write the first scholarly biography on General Lafayette.

Crout says about sharing his research with his students, "It creates an atmosphere for students to realize that they are not just studying date or places, but real people."

One of Crout's students, Lisa Hailey, says, "I look up to Professor Crout because of his dedication to his research. His life revolves around the learning and discovery of more information, but that's what makes a great professor. You can tell he is truly passionate about his work, and the excitement makes you more interested and eager to learn. Every professor should be as excited and passionate. Then students would be a lot more interested."

As an historian, Crout hopes all students will realize the importance of history in identifying themselves. "Whatever you do personally or otherwise, in your career or starting a family, it all is related to history. It is not an alien subject with a dead past, but everything you do is connected to history and understanding that connection is understanding and identifying yourself."

For more information about Prof. Robert Crout go to his website at