Margaret Scobey, a longtime public servant and former US ambassador to Syria and Egypt, has been named the UT Department of History‘s outstanding alumna for 2017.
She will be celebrated during the history department’s annual honors ceremony at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, at the Frieson Black Cultural Center.
A native of Memphis, Scobey earned two history degrees at UT: a bachelor’s in 1971 and a master’s degree in 1973. In reflecting on her time at UT, Scobey said the intellectual training and writing standards of the discipline of history served her well in the diplomatic life.
“A diplomat’s job to explain the social, political, and economic realities of another country is not dissimilar to a historian’s effort to explain the social, political, and economic realities of another time,” she said. “And the requirement to not only explain but also to provide support for your conclusions in concise language—the work of a historian—is also necessary for a successful diplomat.”
Following her time at UT, Scobey did advanced graduate work at the University of Michigan before entering the US Foreign Service. During her 32-year career, she served in roles including political counselor in Baghdad; deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and deputy chief of mission in Sanaa, Yemen. She also had assignments in Jerusalem, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Peru.
In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Syria. She was recalled from Syria in 2005 due to political unrest. She was appointed ambassador to Egypt in 2008 and served until 2011.
Scobey, who now resides in Farragut, noted that she chose political science as a major at UT but switched to history due to the quality of the professor who taught her western civilization course. Her fondest memories include working with professors Ed Trainer, Mike McDonald, Richard Marius, and Sarah Blanshei.
“They set intellectual standards that I still appreciate and broadened my ability to think, to analyze, to write,” she said. “I am grateful for that experience.”
Scobey’s advice for students considering a degree in history: “Unless one is committed to teaching history, the study of history does not lead directly to any specific type of employment. But if you want to prepare yourself to know how to learn and how to communicate in writing—which can lead to success in a number of areas—history as a major makes a lot of sense.”
She added, “But it is rarely a stand-alone degree. I would recommend that any history major—unless he or she wants to teach—arms himself or herself with other skills and considers that additional education may be required. The ability to think broadly and abstractly combined with the ability to focus on the facts and details of human experience and the ability to communicate conclusions clearly are uncommon skills that would be valued in in many careers.”