Full Text Obama Presidency May 17, 2015: Vice President Joe Biden’s Yale University Class Day Speech Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the Vice President at Yale University Class Day

Source: WH,  5-17-15

Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

2:55 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:   Hello, Yale!  (Applause.)  Great to see you all.  (Applause.)  Thank you very, very much.

Jeremy and Kiki, the entire Class of 2015, congratulations and thank you for inviting me to be part of this special day.  You’re talented.  You’ve worked hard, and you’ve earned this day.

Mr. President, faculty, staff, it’s an honor to be here with all of you.

My wife teaches full-time.  I want you to know that — at a community college, and has attended 8,640 commencements and/or the similar versions of Class Day, and I know they can hardly wait for the speaker to finish.  (Laughter.)  But I’ll do my best as quickly as I can.

To the parents, grandparents, siblings, family members, the Class of 2015 —- congratulations.  I know how proud you must be. But, the Class of 2015, before I speak to you —- please stand and applaud the ones who loved you no matter what you’re wearing on your head and who really made this day happen.  (Laughter and applause.)   I promise you all this is a bigger day for them than it is for you.  (Laughter.)

When President Obama asked me to be his Vice President, I said I only had two conditions:  One, I wouldn’t wear any funny hats, even on Class Day.  (Laughter.)  And two, I wouldn’t change my brand.  (Applause.)

Now, look, I realize no one ever doubts I mean what I say, the problem occasionally is I say all that I mean.  (Laughter.)  I have a bad reputation for being straight.  Sometimes an inappropriate times.  (Laughter.)  So here it goes.  Let’s get a couple things straight right off the bat:  Corvettes are better than Porsches; they’re quicker and they corner as well.  (Laughter and applause.)  And sorry, guys, a cappella is not better than rock and roll.  (Laughter and applause.)  And your pundits are better than Washington pundits, although I’ve noticed neither has any shame at all.  (Laughter and applause.)  And all roads lead to Toads?  Give me a break.  (Laughter and applause.)  You ever tried it on Monday night?  (Laughter.)  Look, it’s tough to end a great men’s basketball and football season.  One touchdown away from beating Harvard this year for the first time since 2006 -— so close to something you’ve wanted for eight years.  I can only imagine how you feel.  (Laughter.)  I can only imagine.  (Applause.)  So close.  So close.

But I got to be honest with you, when the invitation came, I was flattered, but it caused a little bit of a problem in my extended family.  It forced me to face some hard truths.  My son, Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, my daughter, Ashley Biden, runs a nonprofit for criminal justice in the state, they both went to Penn.  My two nieces graduated from Harvard, one an all-American.  All of them think my being here was a very bad idea.  (Laughter.)

On the other hand, my other son, Hunter, who heads the World Food Program USA, graduated from Yale Law School.  (Applause.)  Now, he thought it’s a great idea.  But then again, law graduates always think all of their ideas are great ideas.  (Laughter.)

By the way, I’ve had a lot of law graduates from Yale work for me.  That’s not too far from the truth.  But anyway, look, the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of staff that are Yale graduates, several are with me today.  They thought it was a great idea that I speak here.

As a matter of fact, my former national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, who is teaching here at Yale Law School, trained in international relations at Yale College, edited the Yale Daily News, and graduated from Harvard — excuse me, Freudian slip — Yale Law School.  (Laughter.)   You’re lucky to have him.  He’s a brilliant and decent and honorable man.  And I miss him.  And we miss him as my national security advisor.

But he’s not the only one.  My deputy national security advisor, Jeff Prescott, started and ran the China Law Center at Yale Law School.  My Middle East policy advisor and foreign policy speechwriter, Dan Benaim, who is with me, took Daily Themes -— got a B.  (Laughter.)  Now you know why I go off script so much.  (Laughter and applause.)

Look, at a Gridiron Dinner not long ago, the President said, I — the President — “I am learning to speak without a teleprompter, Joe is learning to speak with one.”  (Laughter.)  But if you looked at my speechwriters, you know why.

And the granddaughter of one of my dearest friends in life -— a former Holocaust survivor, a former foreign policy advisor, a former Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Tom Lantos -— is graduating today.  Mercina, congratulations, kiddo.  (Applause.)  Where are you?  You are the sixth — she’s the sixth sibling in her immediate family to graduate from Yale.  Six out of 11, that’s not a bad batting average.  (Laughter.)  I believe it’s a modern day record for the number of kids who went to Yale from a single family.

And, Mercina, I know that your mom, Little Annette is here.  I don’t know where you are, Annette.  But Annette was part of the first class of freshman women admitted to Yale University.  (Applause.)

And her grandmother, Annette, is also a Holocaust survivor, an amazing woman; and both I’m sure wherever they are, beaming today.  And I know one more thing, Mercina, your father and grandfather are looking down, cheering you on.

I’m so happy to be here on your day and all of your day.  It’s good to know there’s one Yalie who is happy I’m being here — be here, at least one.  (Laughter.)  On “Overheard at Yale,” on the Facebook page, one student reported another student saying:  I had a dream that I was Vice President and was with the President, and we did the disco funk dance to convince the Congress to restart the government.  (Laughter.)

Another student commented, Y’all know Biden would be hilarious, get funky.  (Laughter.)

Well, my granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, whose dad went here, is with me today.  When she saw that on the speech, I was on the plane, Air Force Two coming up, she said, Pop, it would take a lot more than you and the President doing the disco funk dance. The Tea Party doesn’t even know what it is.  (Laughter.)

Look, I don’t know about that.  But I’m just glad there’s someone — just someone — who dreams of being Vice President.  (Laughter and applause.)  Just somebody.  I never had that dream.  (Laughter.)  For the press out there, that’s a joke.

Actually, being Vice President to Barack Obama has been truly a great honor.  We both enjoy getting out of the White House to talk to folks in the real America -— the kind who know what it means to struggle, to work hard, to shop at Kiko Milano.  (Laughter and applause.)  Great choice.  (Laughter.)

I just hope to hell the same people responsible for Kiko’s aren’t in charge of naming the two new residential colleges.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, look, folks, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should day to you today, but the more I thought about it, I thought that any Class Day speech is likely to be redundant.  You already heard from Jessie J at Spring Fling.  (Laughter.)  So what in the hell could I possibly say.  (Laughter.)

Look, I’m deeply honored that Jeremy and Kiki selected me.  I don’t know how the hell you trusted them to do that.  (Laughter.)  I hope you agree with their choice.  Actually I hope by the end of this speech, they agree with their choice.  (Laughter.)

In their flattering invitation letter, they asked me to bring along a sense of humor, speak about my commitment to public service and family, talk about resiliency, compassion, and leadership in a changing world.  Petty tall order.  (Laughter.)  I probably already flunked the first part of the test.

But with the rest let me say upfront, and I mean this sincerely, there’s nothing particularly unique about me.  With regard to resilience and compassion, there are countless thousands of people, maybe some in the audience, who’ve suffered through personal losses similar to mine or much worse with much less support to help them get through it and much less reason to want to get through it.

It’s not that all that difficult, folks, to be compassionate when you’ve been the beneficiary of compassion in your lowest moments not only from your family, but from your friends and total strangers.  Because when you know how much it meant to you, you know how much it mattered.  It’s not hard to be compassionate.

I was raised by a tough, compassionate Irish lady named Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.  And she taught all of her children that, but for the grace of God, there go you — but for the grace of God, there go you.

And a father who lived his motto that, family was the beginning, the middle, and the end.  And like many of you and your parents, I was fortunate.  I learned early on what I wanted to do, what fulfilled me the most, what made me happy -— my family, my faith, and being engaged in the public affairs that gripped my generation and being inspired by a young President named Kennedy  — civil rights, the environment, trying to end an incredibly useless and divisive war, Vietnam.

The truth is, though, that neither I, nor anyone else, can tell you what will make you happy, help you find success.

You each have different comfort levels.  Everyone has different goals and aspirations.  But one thing I’ve observed, one thing I know, an expression my dad would use often, is real.  He used to say, it’s a lucky man or woman gets up in the morning — and I mean this sincerely.  It was one of his expressions.  It’s a lucky man or woman gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.

I’ve been lucky.  And my wish for all of you is that not only tomorrow, but 20 and 40 and 50 years from now, you’ve found that sweet spot, that thing that allows you to get up in the morning, put both feet on the floor, go out and pursue what you love, and think it still matters.

Some of you will go to Silicon Valley and make great contributions to empower individuals and societies and maybe even design a life-changing app, like how to unsubscribe to Obama for America email list — (laughter) — the biggest “pan-list” of all times.

Some of you will go to Wall Street and big Wall Street law firms, government and activism, Peace Corps, Teach for America.  You’ll become doctors, researchers, journalists, artists, actors, musicians.  Two of you -— one of whom was one of my former interns in the White House, Sam Cohen, and Andrew Heymann —- will be commissioned in the United States Navy.  Congratulations, gentlemen.  We’re proud of you.  (Applause.)

But all of you have one thing in common you will all seek to find that sweet spot that satisfies your ambition and success and happiness.

I’ve met an awful lot of people in my career.  And I’ve noticed one thing, those who are the most successful and the happiest — whether they’re working on Wall Street or Main Street, as a doctor or nurse, or as a lawyer, or a social worker, I’ve made certain basic observation about the ones who from my observation wherever they were in the world were able to find that sweet spot between success and happiness.  Those who balance life and career, who find purpose and fulfillment, and where ambition leads them.

There’s no silver bullet, no single formula, no reductive list.  But they all seem to understand that happiness and success result from an accumulation of thousands of little things built on character, all of which have certain common features in my observation.

First, the most successful and happiest people I’ve known understand that a good life at its core is about being personal.  It’s about being engaged.  It’s about being there for a friend or a colleague when they’re injured or in an accident, remembering the birthdays, congratulating them on their marriage, celebrating the birth of their child.  It’s about being available to them when they’re going through personal loss.  It’s about loving someone more than yourself, as one of your speakers have already mentioned.  It all seems to get down to being personal.

That’s the stuff that fosters relationships.  It’s the only way to breed trust in everything you do in your life.

Let me give you an example.  After only four months in the United States Senate, as a 30-year-old kid, I was walking through the Senate floor to go to a meeting with Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.  And I witnessed another newly elected senator, the extremely conservative Jesse Helms, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole for promoting the precursor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  But I had to see the Leader, so I kept walking.

When I walked into Mansfield’s office, I must have looked as angry as I was.  He was in his late ‘70s, lived to be 100.  And he looked at me, he said, what’s bothering you, Joe?

I said, that guy, Helms, he has no social redeeming value.  He doesn’t care — I really mean it — I was angry.  He doesn’t care about people in need.  He has a disregard for the disabled.

Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me.  He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe.

I felt like a fool.  He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don’t know his motives.

It happened early in my career fortunately.  From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person.  Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive.  And something started to change.  If you notice, every time there’s a crisis in the Congress the last eight years, I get sent to the Hill to deal with it.  It’s because every one of those men and women up there — whether they like me or not — know that I don’t judge them for what I think they’re thinking.

Because when you question a man’s motive, when you say they’re acting out of greed, they’re in the pocket of an interest group, et cetera, it’s awful hard to reach consensus.  It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands.  No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive.

Senator Helms and I continued to have profound political differences, but early on we both became the most powerful members of the Senate running the Foreign Relations Committee, as Chairmen and Ranking Members.  But something happened, the mutual defensiveness began to dissipate.  And as a result, we began to be able to work together in the interests of the country.  And as Chairman and Ranking Member, we passed some of the most significant legislation passed in the last 40 years.

All of which he opposed — from paying tens of millions of dollars in arrearages to an institution, he despised, the United Nations — he was part of the so-called “black helicopter” crowd; to passing the chemical weapons treaty, constantly referring to, “we’ve never lost a war, and we’ve never won a treaty,” which he vehemently opposed.  But we were able to do these things not because he changed his mind, but because in this new relationship to maintain it is required to play fair, to be straight.  The cheap shots ended.  And the chicanery to keep from having to being able to vote ended — even though he knew I had the votes.

After that, we went on as he began to look at the other side of things and do some great things together that he supported like PEPFAR -— which by the way, George W. Bush deserves an overwhelming amount of credit for, by the way, which provided treatment and prevention HIV/AIDS in Africa and around the world, literally saving millions of lives.

So one piece of advice is try to look beyond the caricature of the person with whom you have to work.  Resist the temptation to ascribe motive, because you really don’t know -— and it gets in the way of being able to reach a consensus on things that matter to you and to many other people.

Resist the temptation of your generation to let “network” become a verb that saps the personal away, that blinds you to the person right in front of you, blinds you to their hopes, their fears, and their burdens.

Build real relationships -— even with people with whom you vehemently disagree.  You’ll not only be happier.  You will be more successful.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that although you know no one is better than you, every other persons is equal to you and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

I’ve worked with eight Presidents, hundreds of Senators.  I’ve met every major world leader literally in the last 40 years.  And I’ve had scores of talented people work for me.  And here’s what I’ve observed:  Regardless of their academic or social backgrounds, those who had the most success and who were most respected and therefore able to get the most done were the ones who never confused academic credentials and societal sophistication with gravitas and judgment.

Don’t forget about what doesn’t come from this prestigious diploma — the heart to know what’s meaningful and what’s ephemeral; and   the head to know the difference between knowledge and judgment.

But even if you get these things right, I’ve observed that most people who are successful and happy remembered a third thing:  Reality has a way of intruding.

I got elected in a very improbable year.  Richard Nixon won my state overwhelmingly.  George McGovern was at the top of the ticket.  I got elected as the second-youngest man in the history of the United States to be elected, the stuff that provides and fuels raw ambition.  And if you’re not careful, it fuels a sense of inevitability that seeps in.  But be careful.  Things can change in a heartbeat.  I know.  And so do many of your parents.

Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever.  While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call.  My wife and three children were Christmas shopping, a tractor trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter.  And they weren’t sure that my sons would live.

Many people have gone through things like that.  But because I had the incredible good fortune of an extended family, grounded in love and loyalty, imbued with a sense of obligation imparted to each of us, I not only got help.  But by focusing on my sons, I found my redemption.

I can remember my mother — a sweet lady — looking at me, after we left the hospital, and saying, Joey, out of everything terrible that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.  She was right.

The incredible bond I have with my children is the gift I’m not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through.  Who knows whether I would have been able to appreciate at that moment in my life, the heady moment in my life, what my first obligation was.

So I began to commute — never intending to stay in Washington.  And that’s the God’s truth.  I was supposed to be sworn in with everyone else that year in ’73, but I wouldn’t go down.  So Mansfield thought I’d change my mind and not come, and he sent up the secretary of the Senate to swear me in, in the hospital room with my children.

And I began to commute thinking I was only going to stay a little while — four hours a day, every day — from Washington to Wilmington, which I’ve done for over 37 years.  I did it because I wanted to be able to kiss them goodnight and kiss them in the morning the next day.  No, “Ozzie and Harriet” breakfast or great familial thing, just climb in bed with them.  Because I came to realize that a child can hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, maybe for 12 or 24 hours, and then it’s gone.  And when it’s gone, it’s gone.  And it all adds up.

But looking back on it, the truth be told, the real reason I went home every night was that I needed my children more than they needed me.  Some at the time wrote and suggested that Biden can’t be a serious national figure.  If he was, he’d stay in Washington more, attend to more important events.  It’s obvious he’s not serious.  He goes home after the last vote.

But I realized I didn’t miss a thing.  Ambition is really important.  You need it.  And I certainly have never lacked in having ambition.  But ambition without perspective can be a killer.  I know a lot of you already understand this.  Some of you really had to struggle to get here.  And some of you have had to struggle to stay here.  And some of your families made enormous sacrifices for this great privilege.  And many of you faced your own crises, some unimaginable.

But the truth is all of you will go through something like this.  You’ll wrestle with these kinds of choices every day.  But I’m here to tell you, you can find the balance between ambition and happiness, what will make you really feel fulfilled.  And along the way, it helps a great deal if you can resist the temptation to rationalize.

My chief of staff for over 25 years, one of the finest men I’ve ever known, even though he graduated from Penn, and subsequently became a senator from the state of Delaware, Senator Ted Kaufman, every new hire, that we’d hire, the last thing he’d tell them was, and remember never underestimate the ability of the human mind to rationalize.  Never underestimate the ability of the human mind to rationalize — her birthday really doesn’t matter that much to her, and this business trip is just a great opportunity; this won’t be his last game, and besides, I’d have to take the redeye to get back.  We can always take this family vacation another time.  There’s plenty of time.

For your generation, there’s an incredible amount of pressure on all of you to succeed, particularly now that you have accomplished so much.  You’re whole generation faces this pressure.  I see it in my grandchildren who are honors students at other Ivy universities right now.  You race to do what others think is right in high school.  You raced through the bloodsport of college admissions.  You raced through Yale for the next big thing.  And all along, some of you compare yourself to the success of your peers on Facebook, Instagram, Linked-In, Twitter.

Today, some of you may have found that you slipped into the self-referential bubble that validates certain choices.  And the bubble expands once you leave this campus, the pressures and anxiousness, as well — take this job, make that much money, live in this place, hang out with people like you, take no real risks and have no real impact, while getting paid for the false sense of both.

But resist that temptation to rationalize what others view is the right choice for you -— instead of what you feel in your gut is the right choice —- that’s your North Star.  Trust it.  Follow it.  You’re an incredible group of young women and men.  And that’s not hyperbole.  You’re an incredible group.

Let me conclude with this.  I’m not going to moralize about to whom much is given, much is expected, because most of you have made of yourself much more than what you’ve been given.  But now you are in a privileged position.  You’re part of an exceptional generation and doors will open to you that will not open to others.  My Yale Law School grad son graduated very well from Yale Law School.  My other son out of loyalty to his deceased mother decided to go to Syracuse Law School from Penn.  They’re a year and a day apart in their age.  The one who graduated from Yale had doors open to him, the lowest salary offered back in the early ‘90s was $50,000 more than a federal judge made.  My other son, it was a struggle — equally as bright, went on to be elected one of the youngest attorney generals in the history of the state of Delaware, the most popular public official in my state.  Big headline after the 2012 election, “Biden Most Popular Man in Delaware — Beau.”  (Laughter.)

And as your parents will understand, my dad’s definition of success is when you look at your son and daughter and realize they turned out better than you, and they did.  But you’ll have opportunities.  Make the most of them and follow your heart.  You have the intellectual horsepower to make things better in the world around you.

You’re also part of the most tolerant generation in history.  I got roundly criticized because I could not remain quiet anymore about gay marriage.  The one thing I was certain of is all of your generation was way beyond that point.  (Applause.)

Here’s something else I observed — intellectual horsepower and tolerance alone does not make a generation great: unless you can break out of the bubble of your own making -— technologically, geographically, racially, and socioeconomically -— to truly connect with the world around you.  Because it matters.

No matter what your material success or personal circumstance, it matters.  You can’t breathe fresh air or protect your children from a changing climate no matter what you make.  If your sister is the victim of domestic violence, you are violated.  If your brother can’t marry the man he loves, you are lessened.  And if your best friend has to worry about being racially profiled, you live in a circumstance not worthy of us.  (Applause.)  It matters.

So be successful.  I sincerely hope some of you become millionaires and billionaires.  I mean that.  But engage the world around you because you will be more successful and happier.  And you can absolutely succeed in life without sacrificing your ideals or your commitments to others and family.  I’m confident that you can do that, and I’m confident that this generation will do it more than any other.

Look to your left, as they say, and look to your right.  And remember how foolish the people next to you look — (laughter) — in those ridiculous hats.  (Laughter.)  That’s what I want you to remember.  I mean this.  Because it means you’ve learned something from a great tradition.

It means you’re willing to look foolish, you’re willing to run the risk of looking foolish in the service of what matters to you.  And if you remember that, because some of the things your heart will tell you to do, will make you among your peers look foolish, or not smart, or not sophisticated.  But we’ll all be better for people of your consequence to do it.

That’s what I want you to most remember.  Not who spoke at the day you all assembled on this mall.  You’re a remarkable class.  I sure don’t remember who the hell was my commencement speaker.  (Laughter.)  I know this is not officially commencement.  But ask your parents when you leave here, who spoke at your commencement?  It’s a commencement speaker aversion of a commencement speaker’s fate to be forgotten.  The question is only how quickly.  But you’re the best in your generation.  And that is not hyperbole.  And you’re part of a remarkable generation.

And, you — you’re on the cusp of some of the most astonishing breakthroughs in the history of mankind -— scientific, technological, socially —- that’s going to change the way you live and the whole world works.  But it will be up to you in this changing world to translate those unprecedented capabilities into a greater measure of happiness and meaning -—  not just for yourself, but for the world around you.

And I feel more confident for my children and grandchildren knowing that the men and women who graduate here today, here and across the country, will be in their midst.  That’s the honest truth.  That’s the God’s truth.  That’s my word as a Biden.

Congratulations, Class of 2015.  And may God bless you and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.

END
3:37 P.M. EDT

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2002 AP FILE

Edmund Morgan, shown at his home in Connecticut, won a Pulitzer Prize for his large body of work.

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The following is a reprint of  Edmund S. Morgan’s History Doyen profiled I edited while I was an Assistant Editor at the History News Network (HNN), as part of the History Doyens series I was the editor of  from 2006 to 2010. Morgan’s profile was first published on April 16, 2006. 

Edmund S. Morgan

What They’re Famous For

Edmund Morgan is the Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale University. Morgan has authored dozens of books on Puritan and early colonial history, which are acclaimed for both their scholarly focus and their appeal to a general audience. Michael Kammen in the Washington Post Book World described Morgan as “one of the most distinguished historians of the United States.” His books have challenged traditional assumptions about the forces that shaped early American history, including the lives and beliefs of the Puritans and the impetus for the Revolutionary War. Morgan has earned a reputation as an historian of people as well as of ideas, and as a writer of wide appeal. Bruce Kuklick, writing in Books and Culture, maintained that “Edmund Morgan is arguably the finest living American historian.”Edmund Morgan  JPG

Morgan’s most influencial books include The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (1953), Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988), which won Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize in American History in 1989, and American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), which won the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize, the Southern Historical Association’s Charles S. Sydnor Prize and the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Award. Two of his early books, Birth of the Republic (1956) and The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958) which is a standard text on the topic used in University courses.

Morgan has received many awards throughout his prolific career for his work as a writer and a professor, including a lifetime achievement Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for “a creative and deeply influential body of work as an American historian that spans the last half-century.” In 1971 he was awarded the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa’s William Clyde DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching and scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious teaching prizes for Yale faculty. In 1972 he became the first recipient of the Douglas Adair Memorial Award for scholarship in early American history, and in 1986 he received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Historical Association. In 1965 Morgan became a Sterling Professor, one of Yale’s highest distinctions, and was awarded the 2000 National Humanities Medal by the US President Bill Clinton at a ceremony for “extraordinary contributions to American cultural life and thought.”

Morgan’s own interest in history grew while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, where he went on to earn his Ph.D in 1942. At Harvard Morgan studied under Perry Miller. Since he became a historian, he has witnessed a major change in his field. In 2002, he achieved his first New York Times best-seller with Benjamin Franklin Morgan attributes this to “the geezer factor. There just aren’t that many 86-year-olds writing books, so when they do, it’s quite an event.”

Personal Anecdote

The Calvinist

It was the 29th of August, 1938. After a postgraduate year at the London School of Economics I had been touring Europe with a friend, and we were then spending a week in Freiburg im Breisgau, not far from the French border. In a fit of cultural enthusiasm we had decided to travel to Colmar to view the famous altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, a day trip by train via Breissach on the German border.

Before describing what happened there and how it affected me, I need to say that I had spent four years at Harvard under the tutorship of Perry Miller, whose respect for ideas and need to share them had given direction to my college years. Edmund S. Morgan  JPG He, like myself, was a confirmed atheist but at the same time an admirer and profound student of Puritan theology and its elegant scheme of thought. His studies of that scheme would bring him recognition as the foremost intellectual historian of his day. As a student and admirer of Miller, I had devoted much of my college studies to growing familiar with the doctrines of predestination, original sin, divine perfection, human depravity, and theodicy (the defense of God’s goodness despite the existence of evil). Puritan theology commanded respect as a rigorous intellectual system. But I had never quite accepted its dire view of the human condition, its insistence on the innate depravity of human beings. At twenty-two most people did not look all that bad to me.

At Breissach I gained a new perspective on humanity. It was exactly one month before the Munich Pact for which Neville Chamberlain became infamous. The morning paper had announced that Hitler had sent an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia demanding the return of the Sudetenland. When we reached Breissach, we were told that there was a two-hour wait before we would be allowed to cross over to the French side of the Rhine to reach Colmar. And as we strolled through the town, we noticed that young men in SS uniform were everywhere, standing conspicuously in every doorway. Without exception they were blond, six feet tall or more, good-looking. They could easily have been taken for American college boys. So we asked one of them what was going on. “Nur Ubung” was the answer: “just an excercise.” We came to a road leading to a cathedral overlooking the Rhine. As we walked into a beer garden we were confronted by a man in plainclothes who came over to tell us in a civil manner that we could go no further. Why? Because they were “cleaning the cathedral.” We laughed out loud, and so did he. They don’t clean cathedrals in Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. Anyhow, we must not proceed. He was obviously Gestapo.

So we sat down in the beer garden, next to a low hedge beside the street. Moments later, a big open-topped Mercedes touring car fishtailed to a stop near us. Top brass in Wehrmacht uniforms stepped down and had the SS arrange everyone on the street (full of people as curious as we were) in a row opposite to where we sat. Blackshirted men stood at six-foot intervals beside our hedge watching the citizenry, hands on pistols. Why we, and a few others, were permitted to stay put is a puzzle. Everyone was aware that some big shot was coming, but we did not expect the man himself. Then Hitler came through, fanning his signature sloppy salute to the crowd, as his touring car drove up past the cathedral that was not being cleaned. There was no mistaking his beefsteak-red face and negligent demeanor. In preparation for the coming war he was inspecting the Rhine fortifications.

We sat quietly, not ten feet from him as he passed slowly by. I could not help thinking that if I had been armed I could have shot him. (Like many American boys of my generation, I had been given a rifle at an early age and shown how to use it on small unoffending animals.) No one had searched me or any other patron of the beer garden, though I assume that more than one SS man had us in his sights.

The point of this story, for me, however, is that I knew I was looking evil in the face. And it looked like my next-door neighbor or a friend of the family, perhaps a bit old-fashioned but solid. Edmund S.  Morgan JPG What Hitler was already doing to the Jews of Germany and Austria was no secret-although highly-placed officials of the United States government were content to look away and to complain about slanders directed against the German nation.(The American consul at Stuttgart, with whom I had subsequent dealings, was a blatant antisemite.) The part those fresh-faced, and, well, biddable, young men in black were playing was no secret, either. But they all looked so human and so everyday. Even the Gestapo agent could have been a stodgy chance-met tourist rather than a hard man or heavily-armed stooge.

Puritan theology began to make sense, in a way that shook me. I could not believe in the salvation of a few held out by John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards, but human depravity suddenly acquired a face, the cheerful mask that we all learn to wear as the price of belonging to a settled social order. I was still an atheist, as I am now, but that day in Breissach I became a Calvinist atheist. Human beings are capable of great good, but I know that the capacity for fathomless evil is equally human, and it wears a smiling face.

Quotes

By Edmund S. Morgan

  • “We can know what many of his contemporaries came to recognize, that he did as much as any man ever has to shape the world he and they lived in. Benjamin Franklin JPG We can also know what they must have known, that the world was not quite what he would have liked to make it. But we may also discover a man hidden behind the affability and wit that entranced those who enjoyed his presence. We may discover a man with a wisdom about himself that comes only to the great of heart. Franklin knew how to value himself and what he did without mistaking himself for some- thing more than one man among many. His special brand of self-respect required him to honor his fellow men and women no less than himself. His way of serving a superior God was to serve them. He did it with a recognition of their human strengths and weaknesses as well as his own, in a spirit that another wise man in another century has called “the spirit which is not too sure it is right.” It is a spirit that weakens the weak but strengthens the strong. It gave Franklin the strength to do what he incredibly did, as a scientist, a statesman, and a man.” — Edmund S. Morgan in “Benjamin Franklin”
  • How Virginian, then, was America? How heavily did American economic opportunity and political freedom rest on Virginia’s slaves? If Virginia had continued to rely on the importation of white servants, would they have headed north when they turned free and brought insoluble problems of poverty with them? Would they have threatened the peace and prosperity of Philadelphia and New York and Boston, where the poor were steadily growing in numbers anyhow? Would Northerners have embraced republican ideas of equality so readily if they had been surrounded by men in “a certaindegree of misery”? American  Slavery, American Freedom JPG And could the new United States have made a go of it in the world of nations without Virginia and without the products of slave labor? Northern republicans apparently thought not. Some could not condone slavery and talked of breaking loose from the South in their own independent confederation. But the fact is that they did not. They allowed Virginians to compose the documents that founded their republic, and they chose Virginians to chart its course for a generation.”Eventually, to be sure, the course the Virginians charted for the United States proved the undoing of slavery. And a Virginia general gave up at Appomattox the attempt to support freedom with slavery. But were the two more closely linked than his conquerors could admit? Was the vision of a nation of equals flawed at the source by contempt for both the poor and the black? Is America still colonial Virginia writ large? More than a century after Appomattox the questions linger.” — Edmund Morgan in “American Slavery, American Freedom”
  • “It looked as though my best friend at Brown, Barney Keeney, was going to be made president, but the corporation didn’t do anything about that until Wriston was just about ready to step out of office. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but I would have been upset if they hadn’t made Keeney president; on the other hand, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be teaching at a college where my best friend was president. I though to myself , ‘Maybe you’re just too complacent.’ I found myself getting very conservative about practically everything. I didn’t want any changes made. I thought, ‘Well, you need shaking up. You’re sitting here getting just as complacent as you can be.’ And then Yale makes me this offer, so I said, ‘Oh, well, what the hell.’ Hedges made no bones about advising me. He said ‘Brown is Brown, but Yale is Yale. You ought not to stay here, you ought to go on.’ So, in any case I decided. ‘Well, maybe I need some more challemges, maybe I need to be shaken up.’ In a sense I left Brown because I was too confortable there.” — Edmund S. Morgan in 1985 interview discussing his decision to teach at Yale.
  • “I guess The Stamp Act Crisis. That’s the one I got the most excitement out of writing, I guess. I felt that I was seeing things fresh in in a major current of American history. Putting it together was more challenging than most books that I’ve done; maybe it was my firsat real book after my dissertation.” — Edmund S. Morgan in 1985 interview discussing his most influencial and also favorite book.
  • “I made a point of always teaching undergraduates because they are not a captive audience. If you teach undergrads, you have to make history intelligible to people who are not specialists in your field and that’s good for you as a scholar. I always tried out my research ideas first in the classroom to get feedback from people who didn’t have to listen to me if I didn’t make it interesting.” — Edmund S. Morgan on ungraduate teaching in “Humanities”
  • “I used to tell my students to try and maintain the capacity for surprise. If you’re studying the French Revolution and you come across something that surprises you, you have to ask why it surprises you. Most likely, it’s because what you’ve read about the French Revolution before would not lead you to think that this would happen or that it had happened. So don’t say, ‘gee, I didn’t know that’-you have to ask why you didn’t know that. The likelihood is that somebody else gave you the impression it wasn’t so…. “You’ve got to take what people say seriously.”… “Don’t start with the assumption that they didn’t mean what they were saying. It’s up to you to show that they don’t mean it if you don’t think they mean it. All that postmodernism is junk. If the postmodernists are right, there’s no point in studying history at all… No matter what people say, history doesn’t repeat itself.” ” — Edmund S. Morgan in a Publishers Weekly interview about historical philosophy
  • Looking back on his career as a teacher, Morgan says that his greatest reward in the classroom was “getting students to talk back and challenge my ideas. I always had large classes, but I encouraged students to interrupt me at any time.”… “My view has always been that an analysis of historical developments should be embodied in narrative,” Morgan says of his approach as both teacher and writer of history. “A historian should not be didactic-that is a word that makes my blood run cold.” — Edmund Morgan in Yale Bulletin & Calendar, January 12, 2001

About Edmund S. Morgan

  • “While several previous biographies provide fuller accounts of Franklin’s life, none rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character, its affinity not just for his ideas, but for the way his mind worked.” — Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books on “Benjamin Franklin”
  • “So much has been written about Benjamin Franklin in the 212 years since his death that you might imagine there’s nothing left to say. But there always is. Now comes another biography of the man, a fairly short one, and in my opinion it’s one of the best. The author is Edmund S. Morgan, a historian of early America at Yale University for 47 years, now emeritus. He stands high in his profession, is closely familiar with the 18th (Franklin’s) century, and writes with clarity and a pleasing informality. He is an ideal author for this undertaking.” — Max Hall, former editor at Harvard University Press reviewing “Benjamin Franklin”
  • “Benjamin Franklin generated much controversy in his own times, and historians have reflected this in their treatment of him. Professor Edmund S. Morgan, in his new and readable biography, relies heavily on Franklin’s writings to tell Franklin’s side of the story. He does it well…Franklin would have been pleased with Morgan’s interpretation. Many others, both then and now, would disagree, but, for those who want to know Franklin as Franklin undoubtedly wanted to be known, Morgan’s biography is the place to start. — Owen S. Ireland reviewing “Benjamin Franklin”
  • For the past quarter century Edmund S. Morgan has been one of the most prolific and respected authors of early American history. Noted for its incisiveness, as well as its graceful crafting, his work on the New England Puritans and the American Revolution has set high standards as a model of careful investigation and sensitive reading of the historical record. For these reasons, any addition to the corpus of Morgan’s scholarship immediately commands his colleagues’ attention. But American Slavery, American Freedom is attractive in its own right because it is one of the first book-length studies to emerge from the current reexamination of Virginia’s colonial history. Furthermore, Morgan’s assessment of the Old Dominion’s first two centuries is destined to spark controversy among specialists in Southern history and slavery…. American Slavery, American Freedom is a stimulating book. Its insights are provocative and imaginative, and therein lies the book’s importance. — Warren M. Billings, University of New Orleans reviewing “American Slavery, American Freedom”
  • Edmund Morgan’s The Genuine Article is an anthology of book reviews written by one of America’s most prolific and knowledgeable scholars of early America for the New York Review of Books. Having said that, one should not assume that his reviews resemble anything that you will read in the book reviews of journalism History. While each review is a means of educating readers about the book or books that he is reviewing, Morgan, who has written and edited twenty other volumes since 1952, is more interested in enlightening readers about issues, people, and events from seventeenthand eighteenth-century America.Genuine Article JPG For Morgan, who taught at Yale University from 1955 until his retirement in 1986, the release of a new volume on early America presented the opportunity to give readers a history lesson while critiquing the scholarship that provided him with a point of departure. The resulting collection is probably the best historiography and introduction to life in early America that one could imagine with each lesson presented in twenty or fewer pages of concise, insightful commentary. The Genuine Article‘s chapters, which cover nearly forty years of Morgan’s reviews, describe most aspects of life in the colonies from the landing at Jamestown through the Revolution… Morgan reiterates this throughout, but, of even more value, he demonstrates what he professes through his reviews. The book’s cover claims Morgan “has had a more profound role in shaping our perceptions of the American colonies” than any other living historian. The breadth and depth of the reviews included in this anthology confirm the claim. — David Copeland reviewing “The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America”
  • “Edmund S. Morgan remains one of the academy’s best secrets. Over a long and fruitful career, Puritan  Dilemma JPG he has been one of the most influential historians of early America, a man with a rare gift for telling the story of the past simply and elegantly without sacrificing its abundant complexity. The best known of his books is probably his biography of John Winthrop, “The Puritan Dilemma.” Mr. Morgan’s “Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles” is the inside favorite of many historians, but the hilarious comparison of Indians with the barbarous Englishmen of 17th-century Virginia in “American Slavery – American Freedom” will delight anyone with a taste for the human comedy and good writing. Yet the work of this artist among contemporary historians remains generally unknown to the reading public.” — Pauline Maier in the New York Times Book Review
  • “To Edmund S. Morgan, for his brilliant scholarship as one of America’s most distinguished historians. With elegant prose, fresh perspective, and exhaustive research, he has enhanced our understanding of American colonial history by challenging traditions and assumptions about the birth of our nation and by bringing to life the people and ideas that shaped America’s destiny.” — 2000 National Humanities Medal Certificate’s commendation
  • “Morgan doesn’t teach history, he narrates it. Listening to his lectures is like listening to a story.” — Anonymous former student

Basic Facts

Teaching Positions: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, instructor in social sciences, 1945-46;

Edmund S.  Morgan JPG

Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, 1946-49, associate professor, 1949-51, professor of history, 1951-55;

Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of history, 1955-65, Sterling Professor of History, 1965-86, professor emeritus, 1986–.

Johnson Research Professor, University of Wisconsin, 1968-69.

Member of council, Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1953-56, 1958-60, and 1970-72;

Trustee of Smith College, 1984- 89.

Area of Research: Puritan and American colonial history

Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1937, Ph.D., 1942;

London School of Economics, University of London, graduate study, 1937- 38.

Major Publications:

  • The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, (Boston Public Library, 1944, new edition, Harper, 1966).
  • Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century, Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, VA), 1952.
  • (With Helen M. Morgan) The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, (University of North Carolina Press, 1953, 3rd edition, 1994).
  • The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789, (University of Chicago Press, 1956, 3rd edition, 1992).
  • The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, (Little, Brown, 1958).
  • The American Revolution: A Review of Changing Interpretations, (Service Center for Teachers of History, 1958).
  • The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795, (Yale University Press, 1962, reprinted, Norton, 1984).
  • Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea, (New York University Press, 1963).
  • Roger Williams: The Church and the State, (Harcourt, 1967).
  • So What about History (Atheneum, 1969).
  • American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, (Norton, 1975).
  • The Challenge of the American Revolution, (Norton, 1976).
  • The Meaning of Independence: John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, (University Press of Virginia, 1976, 2nd edition, 2004).
  • The Genius of George Washington, (Norton, 1980).
  • Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, (Norton, 1988).
  • Benjamin Franklin, (Yale University Press, 2002).
  • The Genuine Article, (Norton, 2004).

Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:

  • (With others) The National Experience: A History of the United States, (Harcourt, 1963).
  • (With others) The Emergence of the American, (Educational Services, 1965).
  • Prologue to the Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764-1766, (University of North Carolina Press, 1959).
  • The Founding of Massachusetts: Historians and the Sources, (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964).
  • The American Revolution: Two Centuries of Interpretation, (Prentice-Hall, 1965).
  • The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657: The Conscience of a Puritan, (Harper, 1965).
  • Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794, (Bobbs-Merrill, 1965, 2nd edition, Hackett Publishing, 2003).

Contributor to The Mirror of the Indian, Associates of the John Carter Brown Library, 1958. Author of introduction to Paul Revere’s Three Accounts of His Famous Ride, (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1961, 2nd edition, 1968). Also contributor of articles and reviews to historical journals. Member of editorial board, New England Quarterly.

Awards:

National Humanities Medal, 2000;

National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2003, for Benjamin Franklin;

Organization of American Historians Distinguished Services Award, 1998;

Bruce Catton Award, 1992;

Columbia University’s 1989 Bancroft Prize in American History for Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988);

In 1971 he was awarded the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa’s William Clyde DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching and scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious teaching prizes for Yale faculty. One year later, he became the first recipient of the Douglas Adair Memorial Award for scholarship in early American history, and in 1986 he received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Historical Association.

Douglass Adair Memorial Award, 1972;

William Clyde DeWane Medal, 1971;

Research fellow, Huntington Library, 1952-53.

Morgan has received numerous fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.

Morgan has received Honorary degrees from Rutgers University, Brown University, Colgate University, Washington College, William and Mary, University of New Haven, Williams College, Lawrence University, and Smith College.

Additional Info:

At Yale, Morgan has been a member of the Administrative Board of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin for more than 30 years and has been its chairman for the last 11. This documentary enterprise, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale and now edited by Ellen R. Cohn, is in its final few years. It now has 36 volumes and will eventually have about 46. In addition, the documents in all 46 volumes will be available on a CD-ROM.The documents are of three kinds: letters and other pieces written by Franklin, letters to Franklin, and other documents closely involving Franklin.

Edmund S.  Morgan JPG Morgan is a member of the Society of American Historians, American Antiquarian Society, Organization of American Historians (president, 1971-72), American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Historical Society, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, British Academy, Royal Historical Society.

During World War II Morgan worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, as a tool-and-die make in the Radiation Laboratory, (1942-45).

Morgan has been a professional woodturner for the past decade or so, working on large lathes and other equipment in the basement of his home. His walnut bowls and other creations have been exhibited at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven and at the League of New Hampshire Craftsman in New Hampshire, where Morgan maintains a vacation home. He and his wife, Marie Morgan, have also crafted tables and other furniture for their home in New Haven.

History Buzz February 29, 2012: John Lewis Gaddis: Historian wins annual American History Book Prize for “George F. Kennan: An American Life”

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Gaddis Wins History Prize for Kennan Biography

Source: NYT, 2-29-12

The historian John Lewis Gaddis has won the annual American History Book Prize for “George F. Kennan: An American Life,” the New-York Historical Society announced. Roger Hertog, the chair of the society’s board of trustees, praised Mr. Gaddis for bringing to life “the story of the grand strategist who shaped foreign policy over the last 60 years.”

Mr. Gaddis, a professor at Yale University and the author of numerous books about the cold war, began researching his biography back in 1982, when Kennan, best known for outlining the containment strategy against the Soviet Union in his famous 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow, was 78. (He died in 2005, at age 101.) The book, published by the Penguin Press, received respectful attention from critics when it finally appeared last November, including a 4,400-word assessment in the New York Times Book Review by Henry Kissinger, who called the book “as close to the final word as possible on one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging and exasperating American public servants.”

The prize, which comes with a cash award of $50,000 and the official title of American Historian Laureate, will be awarded on April 13 as part of the historical society’s “Weekend With History” event in Manhattan. Past winners have included Gordon S. Wood, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Ron Chernow.

Gaddis wins national award for Kennan biography

After winning high praise among reviewers for his biography of George F. Kennan, history professor John Lewis Gaddis has won the seventh annual American History Book Prize for his work, the New York Times reported.

The prize, which has been handed out by the New-York Historical Society, is awarded for a nonfiction American history book “that is distinguished by its scholarship, its literary style and its appeal to a general as well as an academic audience,” according to the society’s website. Gaddis will receive a cash award of $50,000 and the title of American Historian Laureate.

Yale’s Cold War star began research on Kennan — the American diplomat known for articulating the United States’ “containment” strategy against the Soviet Union — back in 1982. The book finally appeared in print last November.

Gaddis is also in the running for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

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

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAPHistory Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAp

HISTORIAN PASSINGS: REMEMBERING JOHN MORTON BLUM

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.

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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.

Stephanie McCurry: University of Pennsylvania Professor Wins $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

HISTORY Awards

Source: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 10-18-11

Stephanie McCurry, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as the winner of the 2011 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for her book, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Harvard University Press). The Douglass Prize is awarded annually by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. The $25,000 prize will be presented to McCurry at a dinner sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City in February 2012.

In addition to McCurry, the other finalists for the prize were Nicholas Draper for The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation, and British Society at the End of Slavery (Cambridge University Press) and Christina Snyder for Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Harvard University Press).

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of over ninety entries by a jury of scholars that included Edward Alpers (UCLA), Thavolia Glymph (Duke University), and Seth Rockman (Brown University). The winners were selected by a review committee of representatives from the Gilder Lehrman Center, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Yale University.

“McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning traces the rise and fall of ‘a modern proslavery and antidemocratic state, dedicated to the proposition that all men were not created equal,'” noted Rockman, the 2011 Douglass Prize Jury Chair and Associate Professor of History at Brown University. “McCurry unravels the deadly consequences of the Confederate project to build a slaveholding nation. What previous scholars would have called the social history of the homefront, McCurry reconceptualizes as the political history of the Confederacy wherein ‘unfranchised’ white women and slaves drove events in ways never anticipated by the slaveholding regime’s architects. McCurry deepens our understanding of the slaves’ self-emancipation, while also clarifying the radical nature of the Confederate project. Deeply researched and rich in analytical and comparative insights, McCurry offers a dramatic account befitting this year’s observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial.”

Robert W. Gordon: Harvard, Yale professors join Stanford Law

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

Source: San Jose Business Journal, 6-9-11

Stanford Law School said that commercial legal historian Robert W. Gordon has been named professor of law and will begin teaching this fall.

Stanford Law School said Thursday that commercial law scholar George G. Triantis and legal historian Robert W. Gordon have been named professors of law and will begin teaching this fall.

The appointments of Triantis and Gordon come on the heels of the appointment of James Cavallaro as professor of law and director of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of the Mills Legal Clinic.

“These are capstone appointments in what has been a steady program of enlarging the law school faculty while preserving its longstanding tradition of excellence,” said Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer. “Both Bob and George are intellectual leaders in their fields. As important, both are fabulous teachers, colleagues, and mentors of students.”….READ MORE

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: Frederick Douglass Book Prize Reception

Source: Bloomberg, 2-26-11

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Lois Chiles and Richard Gilder, a co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute and partner, Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co. Photographer: Amanda Gordon

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Lamaria McDonald, a junior at Frederick Douglass Academy; Lewis Lehrman, a co-founder of the Gilder Lehrman Institute and chairman of Ten Squared Management LLC; and Thakane Masondo, a senior at Frederick Douglass Academy. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Joseph McNay, chairman of Essex Investment Management Co., and a financial supporter of Yale School of Management’s new campus, with Lesley Hermann, executive director of the Gilder Lehrman Institute. McNay is famous in Yale circles for investing money for the class of 1954 ($300,000 turned into $100 million, he said). Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Ned Blackhawk, a professor of history at Yale, and Judith A. Carney, a professor of geography at University of California Los Angeles. Carney is a winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize for “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World,” which she wrote with her husband, Richard Nicholas Rosomoff. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Martha Hodes, a history professor at New York University and chairman of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize jury; David Blight, a history professor at Yale and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center; and Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Kenneth Morris, president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation and great-great-great-grandson of Douglass, with Patrick Ojimba, a junior at Frederick Douglass Academy. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Linda Evans and Walter Evans of Savannah, Georgia. Walter Evans, a retired surgeon, has acquired an extensive collection of African-American art and manuscripts including works by James Baldwin and love letters by Frederick Douglass’s son. The museum at Savannah College of Art and Design is building the Walter O. Evans Center for African-American Studies to house parts of his collection. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Ilana Pergam, director of studies at the Chapin School; Chris Forster, a 1994 recipient of the Yale Medal; Betsy Forster, who taught Pergam in elementary school; and Ellen Baylor, head of the history department at Chapin. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Marsha Andrews, an opera singer; Edward Ball, author of “Slaves in the Family,” a recipient of a National Book Award; and Candace Skorupa, who teaches French at Yale.

Yale alumni Lewis Lehrman, chairman of Ten Squared Management LLC, and Richard Gilder, partner at Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co., gathered with other history fans Thursday night at the Yale Club of New York City.

The occasion marked the awarding of the $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for nonfiction on slavery. It was named for the self-educated abolitionist, whose great-great-great- grandson, Kenneth Morris, was present.

Enjoying the filet mignon and white chocolate mousse were Joseph McNay, chairman of Essex Investment Management Co., Walter Evans, a manuscript collector who owns several Douglass family scrapbooks, historian Eric Foner and a lot of students from the Frederick Douglass Academy.

Lehrman told two students about Alexander Hamilton. “I started out as a teacher,” he said to Bloomberg News.

“I read all the finalists,” Gilder said.

The two men are the founders and funders of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, which sponsor the prize.

“Not only is it a mouthful to spit out all those greats, but it makes me feel far removed,” said Morris, president of the Frederick Douglass Family foundation, in after-dinner remarks. “It’s like trying to picture a billion dollars with all those zeroes.”

Prizes went to “In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World” by  and “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery” by Siddharth Kara, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker.

Foner, a professor at Columbia University, was recently named the 2011 winner of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Lincoln Prize for his book “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”

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