“If you study history and historians, you will begin to have the capacity for living intelligently.” Joan Todd also believes that the evidence, methods and narrative requirements history requires are the single best basis for educating people in a democratic society. She has devoted her adult life to the teaching, research, writing and publishing and consulting of history in its broadest sense, embracing all endeavors of human society. With the 18th century historian-philosopher Giambattista Vico she shares the conviction that human truth is found in the infinite variety of what we make, from belief systems to paintings and electronics. The “New Science”, as Vico called his work, was “History” as opposed to the Cartesian concept of only “clear and distinct ideas” which eliminated history and religion. Since God made nature argued Vico, it was completely true only to Him; man alone made history.
Joan Todd is the younger daughter of Joseph Markley, an Athletic Director and football and baseball coach in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Alice Meyer Markley, a pianist and organist. She was educated in the Minneapolis Public Schools, at Carleton College and received both a B.S. (summa cum laude, 1952) and M.A. in history from the University of Minnesota (1953). In 1951, shortly after the Berlin Airlift, she was selected as the first U. S. exchange student to the newly founded Free University of Berlin, located in the American Sector of Berlin. For more than a year she lived in the bombed- out city in a Studentenheim and studied at the Meinecke Institute of History, named for the famous German historian and located in a former officers club with no heat or chairs and lectures in the bar. She also took a 5,000 small-motor bicycle trip with another girl to Switzerland, France, Spain, down to Rome, through Austria, spending $125 in two months.
Returning to Minnesota, she had two assistantships, in modern European history and philosophy of education and wrote her Master's thesis on the territorial papers of the Orleans territory, which Jefferson acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Additionally she was advisor for foreign students in the College of Education. She also began teaching philosophy of education when her professor became ill, the first year of a 40 year teaching career. At Idaho State University she taught both American and European history and was in charge of the supervision of secondary teacher training in the social sciences. In 1960, after a summer grant to study philosophy at Harvard, she went with her husband to Pittsburgh where he was employed at Carnegie-Mellon. The Harvard introduction to pre-Socratic Greek Philosophy stimulated her interest in ancient history. She was hired by the University of Pittsburgh to teach American history, but began her doctoral studies with George Fowler, eminent textual scholar in ancient and medieval history. Her doctoral dissertation was on the Greek historia (enquiry) of Xenophon and the paedia (education, culture) of the Persian Cyrus the Great.
The confrontation, intermingling and borrowing of cultures would remain a major theme in all of Joan Todd's work. Her doctorate was awarded in 1968. In the meantime the Todds went to Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois where Hal Todd was named Director of Theatre. At Northwestern Joan Todd was hired to teach the wide-ranging course of Historiography, the History Writing tradition from the Greeks to the Present and her favorite course. Over 100 historians are considered and the course is a challenge both for content and methodology. This course is usually required for history majors everywhere, and for 35 years Joan Todd worked on developing techniques of individual involvement, themes and universal values without superficiality.
Hal Todd was invited to write, act and direct for a new television series, IT'S A MAN'S WORLD in 1964 and the Todds moved to Hollywood. Joan Todd was hired to teach history at Mount St. Mary's University in Brentwood. For the first time she was not the only woman in the department! The wonderful relationship continued and in 2016 she was asked to join faculty members in a pilgrimage trip to Le Puy France where the Order of Sisters of St. Joseph was founded. The annual Joan Todd Book Award for Excellence in History was created at the University. Hal Todd was named Chairman of the Theatre Arts Department at San Jose State University in 1964. Joan Todd commuted a year to Mount St. Mary's in LA and then was hired by the History Department at San Jose State. She was the first spouse to be hired on a tenure track position in the State University system at the same campus as her husband (although, not of course, the same department).
Joan Todd and her husband both taught 29 years at San Jose State. Joan taught Greece, Rome, medieval history and Historiography and developed a new course in the Ancient Near East. She also taught in the Humanities Department and the “last chance requirement” in American History for seniors. In her courses she used a problems format that required careful reading and documented sources, both texts and artifacts and geography. Attribution was strictly observed and samples were always supplied. But at the end of each problem each student made his own observations and judgment about the problem faced, e.g., the conflict between democracy and empire in ancient Greece. The difficulties of executive power (dignitas) and dictatorship in the Roman Republic. The problems required about 15-20 pages of writing, could never be copied and really immersed students in the material. For graduate students this kind of work elevated itself into Master's Theses such as Caesar's Conflict with the Republic, The Use of Fortuna in the political thinking of Polybius, Assyrian Controls and Trade in the Ancient Near East, and Jefferson's attempts to “euthanize” Platonic Christianity in Virginia. Joan Todd read 10,000 pages of student work a year. At the return of papers, each student read an underlined sentence deemed both interesting and well done to the class. Joan Todd taught graduate seminars and special upper division research classes in ancient history. She also supervised student teachers at the secondary and junior college level in the San Jose area.
Dr. Todd also gave a number of talks and workshops in the Bay Area: to SRI on methods of research in the ancient world, to IBM Research Center on Science Education in the Ancient World, for a fund raiser for the Saratoga Library on The Legacy of the Ancient Libraries, to Stanford Education Research Center on the Integrity of Learning and Teaching, a three part workshop for De Anza College on the use of Theatre Mondo in raising Historical Consciousness, and the Honors Address at Mt. St. Mary's University on The Heroic Mind. She chaired the Improvement of Instruction Committee of the History Department for more than 10 years. Joan Todd received a Danforth Distinguished Professor Award to complete her doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh. She was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities grants from the U.S Government: One for “The Teaching of the Post-Biblical Tradition in Western Civilization” at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and one for nine months' work at the Albright Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem, Israel for research in amber in archaeology. She also received grants from The American Philosophical Society. She has published more than a dozen papers in archaeology (see below), as well as articles on Xenophon, Polybius and Vico and R.G. Collingwood. She edited three anthologies on international research in Amber in Archaeology for conferences in Washington D.C., Talsi, Latvia and Belgrade, Serbia. She represented the American Association for Ancient History in a Letter to President Bush (and Preservation Director Butler) about the Protection (after the 2002 invasion) of the important (and American subsidized-1923) Museum in Baghdad. (Ignored).
Dr. Todd is the U.S. Representative to the Amber Committee of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Studies based in Brussels, Belgium and more recently, the U. S Representative to CIVIA, International Research Center of the Ancient Roads and the Ways of Communication Among the Peoples based in the Republic of San Marino, where she gave a paper on amber and incense in 2016, to be published this year. In the 1960's Dr. Curt Beck of the Chemistry Depart at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York was able to use the newly developed at MIT infrared Spectroscope to identify the particular provenance of Baltic amber (succinate) in archaeological finds in Bronze Age Greece. The implications of long distance travel in 1500 BCE from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean has led to 50 years of productive research involving scholars from all over the globe. Beginning in 1972, Dr. Todd took the first amber samples in the then Yugoslavia, making more than a dozen trips to every museum from Slovenia to Macedonia. An NEH grant in 1983 sent her to take the first samples in Israel and a Fulbright Alumni grant in 2009 sent her to the National Museum in Beijing and to take the first amber samples in Inner Mongolia, from the tomb of a 900CE princess. Dr. Todd has helped to organize amber conferences around the world from Toronto and Quebec to Riga, Stockholm, Forli, Italy, Belgrade, Germany and the U.S. Amber research, analysis and publication is now a central part of ancient history.
In 1950 Joan Todd was selected as the ingénue for a summer theatre stock company in Montana headed by the actor Carroll O'Connor. She met her future husband, Hal J. Todd, who was also in the company in a production of BOY MEETS GIRL. Hal Todd became a professor of theatre, after getting a degree in engineering and serving in the U. S. Navy as a civil engineer for 4 years in WWII. With the G. I. Bill, he returned to study and received a M. A. in Theatre from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from Denver University. He was an actor, director, writer and theatre history scholar and served as the Chair of the Theatre Arts Department of San Jose State University for 18 years. The Hal Todd Theatre at San Jose State is named for him. For the first ten years of their marriage in 1954, Joan Todd also worked in the theatre, at Ashland Oregon, The Globe Theatre in San Diego, where she acted, Colorado, and with the Glacier Park Players, where she acted and played the piano. She had previously performed and played for two summers in Yellowstone National Park. The Todds continued to work together in the theatre and when the Idaho State Players were invited by the State Department to tour plays in New Zealand, she acted as company manager and also spoke on Idaho Potato Recipes.
In Hollywood, while teaching history at Mt. St. Mary's University, the Todds opened their own commercial theatre in the San Fernando Valley. Dr. Todd served as box office manager, flack
(advertising) and producer for Marketplace Productions. She earned a box in VARIETY when she bid $3.40 at the Hal Roach Studio action for a set for their highly-praised production of Tobacco Road. In Glamour Magazine December 1963 she was a producer of the month. After retiring from full-time classroom teaching, in the 1980's Joan Todd went back to acting at the Saratoga Chamber Theatre and created a one-woman performance from the writings of her favorite person in history, Lady Augusta Gregory, one of the Founders of the Abbey Theatre in Ireland and promoter and protector of the talents of Sean O'Casey and Synge. She performed this a number of times in the Bay Area and at Ft. Mason in San Francisco.
The Todds went to New York and London every year for 30 years to see plays. They bought their hillside home in Los Gatos specially to entertain students and colleagues and friends—over 50 years in Los Gatos they have entertained more than a thousand students. After her husband's death in 2007, Joan Todd edited and published four of his popular children's plays, Four Plays for Middle-Aged Children.
The Todd home, a hillside house on San Tomas Aquino Creek which flows into SF Bay, has more than 100 trees. The Todds have never cut a tree and they have planted more than 40. Dr. Todd, always interested in trees because of their sacred position in the ancient world, and the origins of amber and incense trees which played a major part in ancient trade, spent hundreds of dollars in pruning. She became interested in the constructive use of tree debris, biomass, debris chipped and converted into electricity. She assisted in establishing a wood recycling center in San Jose and attended and spoke at several international biomass conferences in San Francisco and Denver. She also visited Salzburg, Austria where a certain percentage of city energy is designated to come from tree debris. No “forests” are planted for this purpose; it all waste product. She became involved in the water district’s “Creekside Living” programs and began to speak about the preservation of the unique mile of Canon Drive which borders the creek and has the largest trees in the area. She noticed how nearby Highway 9, when divided, was planted with tall eucalyptus and had her four over 150” 100 year old eucalyptus measured by an interested group in 2011. Hoping to use her energy and experiences to preserve and protect the remaining environment is now a major concern.