In Memoriam: Edmund S. Morgan, 1916-2013

edmundsmorgan-bydavidlevineYesterday, the New York Times and Associated Press reported the death of Edmund Morgan at age 97. The man Bruce Kuklick called “arguably the finest living American historian” needs no introduction here, but today we’re featuring tributes, reflections, and some favorite articles from around the Web. The Junto will be hosting a week-long roundtable on the legacy of Morgan and his most important works in the first week of August.

In the meantime, please feel free to use the comments here to discuss the scholar and his work.

When I took Stephen Saunders Webb’s colonial seminar, Webb (in a well-honed anecdote) described talking with Morgan over drinks early in his career, eventually mustering up the courage to ask how he wrote so well. Morgan replied, “Seven drafts, young man. Seven drafts.”

Indeed, most of the personal anecdotes I’ve heard about Morgan concern advice given to students. In an early issue of Common-place, John Mack Faragher described what it was like to take Morgan’s legendary seminar at Yale: “More than a quarter century later it is absolutely clear to me that it offered me my first grounding as an historian.” Morgan supervised the dissertations of distinguished scholars including Barbara Aronstein Black, T.H. Breen, Joseph J. Ellis, Christine Leigh Heyrman, Robert Middlekauff, John Murrin, and Rosemarie Zagarri.

Morgan’s awards and honors include the National Humanities Medal, the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Beveridge Award, and a Pulitzer Prize special citation for a lifetime of work. Last but not least, Morgan was also the winner of The Junto‘s March Madness this spring.

In His Own Words

  • Morgan’s profile at the History News Network includes “The Calvinist,” in which Morgan reflects on how World War II shaped his appreciation for Puritan thought.
  • Morgan appeared on C-SPAN in 2004 to discuss The Genuine Article

Reactions, Tributes, and Commentary (Updated)

Selected Essays and Articles

You come across something that you had not known about, something that surprises you a little. Cultivate that surprise. Do not say to yourself, “Oh, I didn’t know that,” and go on with your reading. Stop right there.

Did you know Edmund Morgan? Did his work influence your study of history? How has he influenced the way historians write about colonial America?

6 responses

  1. I really loved his quote from the NY Times obit. I hope every history PhD student takes this to heart:

    “I would say that my ideal of writing history is to give the reader vicarious experience,” Professor Morgan told The William and Mary Quarterly. “You’re born in one particular century at a particular time, and the only experience you can have directly is of the place you live and the time you live in. History is a way of giving you experience that you would otherwise be cut off from.”

  2. Thank you for this. I am not surprised to see all these reactions and comments. His work remains a standard for which we all should strive.

    I look forward to the roundtable in August!

  3. I’ll share my favorite quotation of his, from American Slavery, American Freedom.

    “The humility enjoined on men by the Christian God has seldom prevented the assimilation of a share of divinity by the successful, and especially by those in a position to command others.”

  4. Pingback: What We’re Reading: July 11, 2013 | American Historical Association

  5. Pingback: How Not To Be a Senior Scholar | Michael J. Altman

  6. Pingback: How Not to Be a Senior Scholar | Studying Religion in Culture


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