Yesterday, 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)
- Joseph J. Ellis, “Finding the Story”
- The Huntington Library Blog, “Cultivating Surprise“
- Claire Potter, “On Edmund Morgan and the Possibilities for Reviving a More Popular History”
- Josh Marshall, “Edmund Morgan, Dead at 97”
- Michael Froomkin, “Edmund S. Morgan, 97”
- Matthew Sparacio, “Edmund Morgan, 1916-2013”
- Michael Lynch, “Edmund Morgan, 1916-2013”
- John Fea, “Edmund Morgan, R.I.P.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Midwife of American Freedom” (2012)
- Kathleen Brown, “Americans on the James: Re-reading American Slavery, American Freedom” (2001)
- John Mack Faragher, “The Common School” (2001)
The best advice I ever got about historical writing came from Edmund Morgan: “Put an actor in every sentence.”
— Honor Sachs (@drhonor) July 9, 2013
Could put it that Morgan reinvigorated the Whig reading of history for a new, American, cold-warrior expression of liberalism.
— William Hogeland (@WilliamHogeland) July 9, 2013
Three of the greatest Anglo-American historians of the postwar era died in 2013: Genovese, Hobsbawm, and now Edmund Morgan.
— Richard Yeselson (@yeselson) July 9, 2013
Selected Essays and Articles
- “The American Revolution: Revisions in Need of Revising,” 1957 (JSTOR)
- “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” 1972 (PDF)
- “The Witch & We, the People” (1983)
- “Fifty Years of American History: An Interview with Edmund S. Morgan,” by David T. Courtright, 1987 (JSTOR)
- “Cultivating Surprise,” 2005 (PDF, pp. 6-7)
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?