While the economy and culture of the post - World War II South changed from an era of material capital (e.g., cotton and iron ore) to a period of social capital (intellectual development and networked approaches to social change), one of the most important components of urban life, the university, emerged as both a creator and a reflector of such modernization. This is the case with Birmingham and its 50-year-old institution of higher learning - the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). From its early days as a struggling offshoot of the capstone campus in Tuscaloosa, UAB's journey to its current status as a major medical complex and urban research university has been a bumpy but interesting one. Tennant McWilliams, a longtime UAB history professor, explores the whole range of historical considerations, including UAB's similarities and connections to trans-Atlantic civic universities of the 19th century; the irony of the shift from Big Steel to Big Medicine in Birmingham; the visionary administrations of Josph F. Volker, S. Richardson Hill, Charles A. (Scotty) McCallum, as well as those of J. Claude Bennett and others; and the evolving decision to make non-medical life at UAB less of a commuter experience and more of a traditional campus experience. McWilliams does not palliate the missteps and disputes that have, from time to time, impeded the institution's progress. But he explains why, despite various hurdles and distractions, UAB has arisen to be Alabama's largest employer and can today rightly boast that its complex of hospitals, clinics, and health care services are some of the most highly regarded by numerous national rankings. Indeed, as Alabama's only institution classified in the mid 1990s as a Carnegie I Research University, some areas - such as organ transplantation and behavioral science - have evolved into programs known to be among the best in the nation.
Tennant S. McWilliams is Professor of History and Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UAB, a native Alabamian, and author of The New South Faces the World: Foreign Affairs and the Southern Sense of Self, 1877-1950 and Hannis Taylor: The New Southerner as American.