History Op-eds January 31, 2012: Noah Feldman: Historian-in-Chief Newt Gingrich Can’t Shake His Past


History Buzz


Historian-in-Chief Gingrich Can’t Shake His Past: Noah Feldman

Source: Bloomberg, 1-30-12

I was driving when I heard the latest Republican front-runner intoning that “the centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” He went on from there, but I was already grinning from ear to ear. Newt Gingrich had me at Alinsky.

What excites me is not the preposterousness of the statement. No, there isn’t actually any conflict between the idea that America stands alone and the outlook of the proudly independent inventor of community organizing, who once said, “I’ve never joined any organization — not even the ones I’ve organized myself.” And, yes, the Tea Party is a perfect example of anarchic Alinskian organization. But those are just silly facts, not reasons for pure joy in the driver’s seat.

What I love was the absurdity of Newt Gingrich apparently believing that the name Saul Alinsky would have any kind of meaning to the Americans listening to him. Alinsky died in 1972. His 1971 book, “Rules for Radicals,” is a classic — but it is a cult classic, known largely to community organizers and the experts who study them. (Or it was: Thanks to Gingrich, the paperback became the No. 1 seller in Amazon.com’s “civics” category.)

Who believes it’s good campaign politics to attack a relatively unknown visionary who has been dead for 40 years? A historian, that’s who. Gingrich just can’t help himself. Sure, he wants to be president. But more than that, he wants to teach us some history.

A Critical Progressive

Gingrich would not be the first historian president. That distinction properly belongs to Theodore Roosevelt. While serving as governor of New York, Roosevelt wrote and published a full-dress biography of Oliver Cromwell, a book one reader called “a fine imaginative study of Cromwell’s qualifications for the governorship of New York.” Woodrow Wilson, so far the only president to hold a Ph.D., got his doctorate in political science and history. Gingrich, for his part, has the Ph.D. in history that Teddy lacked, not to mention more than two dozen published books. (Although his works of history, and several historical novels, have a co-author, William Forstchen.)

But the technicality of academic achievement is secondary to the question of Gingrich’s self-conception, which is as historical as it could be. Not only did he write his Tulane University dissertation on Belgian education policy in the colonial Congo, he also was hired as an assistant professor at West Georgia College to teach European history — a job he held for several years.

Gingrich’s files from his time at West Georgia, posted online by the Wall Street Journal, are telling. They begin with the wonderful moment in an importuning letter of application where he explains that, “I am more a critical progressive seeking reform rather than a new leftist.”…READ MORE

History Buzz Historian Passings October 19, 2011: John Morton Blum Iconic Historian Passes Away




Source: Yale Daily News, 10-19-11

John Morton Blum, a legendary American history professor who inspired thousands of students during his 34-year career at Yale, died Monday morning of complications with pneumonia in North Branford, Conn. He was 90.

Widely regarded as one of the most influential historians of the late 20th century, Blum helped to forge the modern field of American history through his prolific scholarship and writing. In his long tenure at the University, Blum drew hundreds of students to his lectures each year and taught some of Yale’s most famous political alumni. His passion for academics and his dedicated mentorship of students motivated many who passed through his graduate classes to become professors at universities across the country.


YDN archives

“He of course has a great reputation as a pre-eminent American history scholar,” former Vermont Governor Howard Dean ’71, who took an undergraduate history course with Blum, said in an email Tuesday. “But he could also make history come alive to undergraduate students and he did that for many years. We were incredibly lucky to have him as a teacher.”

Blum came to Yale with a lifelong interest in history and firsthand experience in some of its defining moments.

Born in 1921, Blum grew up in Manhattan and Long Island before attending first Phillips Academy Andover and then Harvard University on scholarship. A year after graduating college in 1943, he travelled to the South Pacific as a member of the United States Navy in World War II. Blum wed his college sweetheart, Pamela Zink Blum, immediately before his deployment, and the marriage lasted for the remainder of his life.

When he returned from the war, Blum continued his history studies and eventually became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1948. But just nine years later, Blum arrived at Yale as a full professor — joining the ranks of fellow faculty members C. Vann Woodward and Edmund S. Morgan, who were influential historians of the time, and entering campus at a time when the University was experiencing great changes.

As Yale dealt with a tenure crisis in the mid-1960s, struggled to keep the school open during the Vietnam War and worked to incorporate women into the faculty and student body, Blum helped to ease the tensions these issues raised among the faculty, Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 said.

“He was dedicated to the history and to the management of things,” Smith said. “He had a real knowledge of how higher education worked.”

During that time, Blum became the chairman of the History Department and was known among the department’s faculty for his peacemaking abilities, said Morgan, a professor emeritus of history and one of Blum’s closest friends. Morgan added that Blum’s dislike for conflict and his administrative talents led many to believe he would ascend to a deanship or presidency at Yale.

Despite those expectations, Blum remained a professor throughout his time at the University, teaching a number of history courses to both undergraduate and graduate students. Blum’s most famous course ­— History 35 — focused on the populist era, Wilsonian progressivism and New Deal liberalism, and consistently filled all 667 seats in the Law School Auditorium, Blum’s former student William Lilley III GRD ’65 said. The class drew students from every major, Lilley said, adding that Blum was considered an unparalleled lecturer at the University.

“He was the best lecturer I ever heard,” said Laura Kalman GRD ’82, a history professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who worked with Blum on her dissertation. “He was not a showman, though he could have been. He knew so much and conveyed it so beautifully and with wit when it was appropriate, and students just loved him.”

Sitting among the large crowds that Blum drew were some of Yale’s most distinguished graduates in the 20th century: former President George W. Bush ’68, Senator John Kerry ’66 and Senator Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, in addition to Dean.

Kerry, who took History 35 during his time at Yale, said Blum had a significant impact on his students, reminding them of the real connections between people’s lives and political actions.

“Even decades after I sat in his class, I find myself coming back to one lesson in particular that he shared with us,” Kerry said in a Tuesday email. “It’s something I often bring up with my staff and colleagues: that real change only happens in a democracy when people and voters are responding to their ‘felt needs,’ to use the term he taught us.”

In addition to earning recognition as Yale’s pre-eminent lecturer of the time, Blum was also known for his commitment to mentoring students, both academically and personally. Several of Blum’s former students said he helped them develop their writing abilities, and Kalman said he was a “model on how to live.”

Steve Gillon, a former colleague of Blum’s and now resident historian of the History Channel, said Blum taught him at age 27 that “life begins at 30” — encouraging Gillion to find a passion early and spend his life pursuing it.

Despite his well-known academic career, Blum was a private man, who “was intensely fond of his family, friends, and colleagues,” said Pamela Zink Blum, his wife of 65 years.

Blum’s son, Thomas, said his father’s passion and high expectations for society were also evident in his personal life.

“He set a high standard for his children, though tolerant of our faults, and he set a high standard for himself,” Thomas said.

Blum is survived by his wife, three children and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in his honor on Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. in Battell Chapel.

Storied professor dies

John Morton Blum, an eminent Yale historian who taught the likes of former President George W. Bush ’68, U.S. Sen. John Kerry ‘66 and former Yale professor Henry Louis Gates ’73, has passed away in North Branford, CT. He was 90.

Blum, a Harvard man, joined Yale’s History Department in 1957. A former chair of the department, Blum was regarded by many as one of the most distinguished and esteemed historians and craftsman in political history.

“John was a great citizen of Yale, a pioneer in helping us understand the meaning of equality in America, and he embodied what it means to be a historian engaged in the public world,” professor David Blight wrote in an email Monday.

Blum, who published numerous books in the past four decades that covered a wide variety of topics, including the Wilson Era, Progressive Presidents, discord in American politics and society, retired in 1991. Despite his retirement, Blum continued to publish, give interviews and appear in historical documentaries well into his 80s. His teaching left an impression on Bush, as the former president mentioned Blum in a 2001 Class Day speech:

As a student, I tried to keep a low profile. It worked. Last year the New York Times interviewed John Morton Blum because the record showed I had taken one of his courses. Casting his mind’s eye over the parade of young faces down through the years, Professor Blum said, and I quote, “I don’t have the foggiest recollection of him.” [Laughter]

But I remember Professor Blum. And I still recall his dedication and high standards of learning. In my time there were many great professors at Yale, and there still are

Blum is survived by his wife of 65 years, Pamela, and their three children. A memorial service will be held in November, Blight wrote.

Oscar Handlin: Historian was considered the father of immigration study


History Buzz


Source: WaPo, 9-23-11

Oscar Handlin, a Harvard professor whose classic writings on American immigration made him a leading intellectual force behind legislation that eliminated the immigration quota system in the United States, died Sept. 20 at his home in Cambridge, Mass., after a heart attack. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by his son, David Handlin.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Dr. Handlin was considered the father of modern immigration studies. In his panoramic books, he chronicled the stories of Europeans, Jews, Puerto Ricans and African Americans and other populations that shaped the United States. His sweeping work “The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize in history.

“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America,” he wrote in perhaps the most noted passage of that book. “Then, I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”

Dr. Handlin’s credentials as a historian, the Harvard imprimatur and his frequent writings — in publications including the Atlantic Monthly and Commentary — made him an influential public intellectual in his time. Historians cite him as a crucial behind-the-scenes player in the landmark 1965 legislation that abolished the country-based quota systems that had regulated immigration since the 1920s.

He was “absolutely central to it,” said Hasia Diner, a professor of immigration history at New York University.

Dr. Handlin found the quota systems, which favored Northern and Western European immigrants, racially discriminatory.

He considered it “something that not only discriminated against prospective immigrants,” said Columbia University professor Mae Ngai, but also “a kind of stigma against those ethnic groups in the United States.”

In his writings, Dr. Handlin never treated American immigration in dry, statistical terms. Critics described “The Uprooted,” his most noted work, as a riveting and moving account of the entire immigration experience.

“The Uprooted concerns the personal human side of the flood of immigration,” wrote a New York Herald Tribune reviewer. “Mr. Handlin wrote of the European settlements from which the immigrants came, then followed through the hardships of their crossing, in steerage, and life that followed in the United States.”

Oscar Handlin was born Sept. 29, 1915, in Brooklyn in a household where education was highly valued. When Dr. Handlin’s son was born, his father, a Russian immigrant, suggested the name “Plato.” Dr. Handlin and his wife decided against it.

Dr. Handlin grew up working as a delivery boy in his family’s grocery store and often rested a book on top of his pushcart, reading as his made his way through the streets of Brooklyn.

He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934 and then studied at Harvard, where he earned a master’s degree in 1935 and a doctorate in history in 1940.

Among his mentors was Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., who suggested the topic of his dissertation: 18th- and early 19th-century immigrants to Boston. The work was subsequently published under the title “Boston’s Immigrants.”

Dr. Handlin was himself the target of discrimination while at Harvard. His classmate John Hope Franklin, who became a revered scholar of African American history, wrote in a memoir that Dr. Handlin was turned away as an officer in the Henry Adams Club because he was Jewish.

Dr. Handlin began teaching at Harvard while pursuing his graduate degrees and would remain with the university for more than four decades.

His first wife, Mary Flug Handlin, with whom he often collaborated, died in 1976.

Survivors include his second wife, of 34 years, Lilian Bombach Handlin of Cambridge, also a co-author; three children from his first marriage, David Handlin of Lexington, Mass., Joanna Handlin Smith of Cambridge and Ruth Manley of Guilford, Conn.; one brother; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.


Clement A. Price: Obama names New Jersey historian Professor to federal advisory post


History Buzz

Will serve as vice chair of Advisory Council on Historic Preservation



Renown Rutgers-Newark History Prof. Clement A. Price on Friday was named vice chairman of the president’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation by President Obama.

Price is Rutgers’ Board of Governors Distinguished Service professor of history and the founder and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers-Newark. The professor is involved in many historic and cultural institutions in New Jersey. He currently serves as the chairman of the Save Ellis Island Foundation and the Newark Education Trust, and is a member of the state Historical Commission, the state Council on the Arts, and the Newark Black Film Festival. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history at the University of Bridgeport and his doctorate in history from Rutgers.

Price was one of five people appointed to federal posts and advisory positions by Obama.

“The extraordinary dedication these men and women bring to their new roles will greatly serve the American people,” the president said. “I am grateful they have agreed to serve in this Administration and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

Obama also appointed, the former president of the University of South Florida to the William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. She received her bachelor’s degree from Rowan University in Glassboro.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick Step Down From Post after 10 years


History Buzz

Rutgers President McCormick to step down from post after 10 years on the job

Source: The Star-Ledger, 5-29-11

richard.JPGPatti Sapone/The Star-LedgerRutgers President Richard McCormick at his home in Piscataway on Friday.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick will step down next year, ending a historic — and at times tumultuous — decade as head of the state’s largest university.

McCormick, 63, will formally submit his resignation during a special, closed-door meeting of the Rutgers Board of Governors scheduled for noon Tuesday in New Brunswick. That will be followed by an afternoon press conference at which the president will say he is leaving at the end of the 2011-12 school year because it is time for new leadership at the state university.

“As I look ahead to the next year and the years beyond, it’s a good time for Rutgers to make a transition and to be seeking a new president,” McCormick said in a lengthy interview Friday night at his house in Piscataway.

During his tenure, McCormick had great successes, including implementation of a historic restructuring of the 57,000-student university. But he also saw Rutgers’ state funding slashed year after year while critics said he lacked the charisma to be the statewide higher education leader New Jersey desperately needed.

McCormick said his late father, popular Rutgers professor and university historian Richard P. McCormick, once told him every president in Rutgers’ 245-year history had either died in office or been pushed out behind the scenes by governors or board members.

The younger McCormick, Rutgers’ 19th president, said he didn’t want to go out like that.

“His implicit advice for me … was leave on your own terms, leave on your own schedule,” McCormick said. “I wanted to do that. And I am.”

McCormick expects to step down from the $550,000-a-year post in June 2012, which leaves Rutgers a year to complete a nationwide search for a new president.

After a year-long paid sabbatical, McCormick will return to the Rutgers faculty in 2013 as a professor. He said he hopes to teach in the history and graduate education departments on the New Brunswick campus. He also plans to write a book about Rutgers, following up on his father’s well-respected work chronicling the university’s early history.

His new salary will be $335,000 a year, making him one of the highest paid professors at the state university, campus officials said.

joan.jpegPatti Sapone/The Star-LedgerPictured at home in Piscataway with his 16-month-old daughter, McCormick said his new position as a Rutgers professor will allow him to spend more time with his daughter and wife, Joan.

As a professor, McCormick said he will also have more time to spend with his wife of nearly five years, Joan, a former Rutgers fundraiser, and their adopted daughter, Katie, now 16 months old. Though he wakes up early each morning to spend time with his daughter, McCormick said he often doesn’t see the toddler again all day because of his long list of commitments as president.

Ralph Izzo, chairman of Rutgers Board of Governors, said McCormick began dropping hints he was thinking about stepping down nine or 10 months ago.

McCormick made his final decision a few weeks ago letting key university officials know his plans. The rest of the 11-member board was told by phone Friday and McCormick planned to call Gov. Chris Christie this weekend to discuss his departure.

Though McCormick was not prompted to leave by the board, Izzo said he accepted the president’s decision to step down….

Rutgers’ last presidential search, which cost $279,000, did not go smoothly.

McCormick was the early front-runner for the job. He was the son of a beloved Rutgers professor who grew up in Piscataway and attended Amherst and Yale. He returned to Rutgers to become a professor and dean before becoming provost of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and president of the University of Washington.

But McCormick surprised Rutgers officials when he turned down their job offer in 2002, only to reconsider and accept the post a few weeks later. It was later revealed McCormick was encouraged to leave the University of Washington by board members because they discovered he had an extramarital affair with a subordinate.

$$ ga0531mccormick Sapone.JPGPatti Sapone/The Star-Ledger McCormick at home with his 16-month-old adopted daughter.

He admitted the affair in a tense 2003 press conference in New Brunswick, with his wife, Rutgers history professor Suzanne Lebsock, by his side. The couple, who have two children now in their 20s, announced they were divorcing the next year. Lebsock remains a Rutgers professor.

After his rough start, McCormick settled into the Rutgers job. He said he is proudest of his restructuring of the university, which unified the semi-independent undergraduate colleges on the New Brunswick-Piscataway campus and eliminated much of the university’s Byzantine structure.

Some alumni fought the restructuring, which included phasing out Douglass College, one of the last degree-granting women’s colleges at a public university. McCormick won the lengthy battle and made the long-needed changes he said unified the university.

“It was a pretty divided and grumpy place when I arrived,” McCormick said. “I think I came at the right moment and my history served me well.”

He also oversaw a 14-percent increase in undergraduate applications, a 13-percent increase in enrollment and dozens of building projects on the New Brunswick, Newark and Camden campuses. Though the football team struggled last year, McCormick also lists the Rutgers athletic department as one of his successes.

McCormick said he had plenty of failures. He repeatedly failed to convince Trenton lawmakers to make a significant investment in higher education, though this year’s proposed budget keeps funding for the college’s stable.

His plan to remake College Avenue, the heart of the New Brunswick campus, into a green space on par with other top colleges, was also a bust. A 2005 proposal for closing roads, creating quads and creating a signature Rutgers building was criticized as too costly and ill timed.

“The timing wasn’t great, because the money wasn’t there,” McCormick said. “That’s a regret.”…

Whether or not Rutgers gets its medical school, McCormick said he will leave the university considering his term a success.

“I didn’t grow up wanting to be president of Rutgers. But when I had the privilege of taking office I looked back and realized in some ways, my whole life had been a preparation for it,” McCormick said. “I was called home by Rutgers to be its president and I feel deeply proud of that.”

Rutgers President Will Step Down in 2012 but Stay on Campus to Teach

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Richard L. McCormick, speaking on Tuesday in New Brunswick, N.J., returned to Rutgers University in 2002 as its president.

Source: NYT, 5-31-11

Richard L. McCormick, a self-described “faculty brat” at Rutgers University who learned to swim at a campus pool on College Avenue in New Brunswick, N.J., and grew up to become the university president, announced on Tuesday that he would step down from that post at the end of next year to return to teaching — at Rutgers, of course — and writing.

“I used to be a scholar of American political history, and I fancy I can do that again,” he said at a news conference.

Dr. McCormick, 63, who still recalls tagging along to campus events with his mother, an administrator, and his father, a history professor and dean, taught at Rutgers for 16 years before leaving to become provost of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then president of the University of Washington in Seattle. Since returning to Rutgers as president in 2002, he has engineered a historic reorganization of the university, increased fund-raising and overseen new building projects and academic programs — all during a period of painful state budget cuts.

Before he departs the presidency, Dr. McCormick said Tuesday, he plans to push ahead on the $1 billion fund-raising campaign announced last year, to work to get a bond issue to finance construction of new academic buildings and maintenance on existing ones and to move forward on a proposal to make Robert Wood Johnson Medical School part of Rutgers.

“I’m not leaving yet, and I set forth a fairly ambitious agenda for the year ahead,” he said in an interview….READ MORE

A version of this article appeared in print on June 1, 2011, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Rutgers President Will Step Down in 2012 but Stay on Campus to Teach.
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