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Ethnic Studies Pioneer

Ronald Takaki, a professor who created the ethnic studies program at the University of California at Berkeley, has died at the age of 70. His name may not be well known, but the field of ethnic studies has emerged as an important and controversial component of higher educaiton.

We'll be running a wire obituary on Takaki, but a longer piece in the Los Angeles Times shows how he began his academic career as a specialist in African American studies before focusing on Asian-American history and the broader multicultural experience of America.

He was among the first scholars to view history through the lens of ethnic minorities and other people traditionally excluded from the power elite of America.

When Takaki was teaching at UCLA during the midst of student rebellions of the late 1960s, the L.A. Times reports, he had a crewcut. His students, "some wearing Afros and dashikis, fell silent. One student finally spoke up.

" 'Well, Prof. Takaki,' the student said in a challenging tone, 'what revolutionary tools are we going to learn in this course?' Takaki replied: 'We're going to study the history of the U.S. as it relates to African Americans. We're going to strengthen our critical-thinking skills and our writing skills. These can be revolutionary tools if we make them so.' "

Tell us what you think of the change wrought by Dr. Takaki.

By Matt Schudel  |  May 29, 2009; 6:00 PM ET
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