Friday, September 18, 2015

on the shoulders of giants

We who teach stand on the shoulders of our forebears, many of whom are giants. One of my most important mentors -- an intellectual giant and a helpful, decent man -- was Stanley Hoffmann, who died last week. His life was recounted, and honored, in several places: a New York Times obituary, a fine assessment by Prof. Gary Bass of Princeton, a warm remembrance by Yasha Mounk on Vox.

I am especially indebted to Hoffmann because he created the interdisciplinary field of study at Harvard called Social Studies and admitted me to the first class. The tutorials were mind-stretching for me, a public school kid from Denver whose parents had never been to college. [My mother was so worried after receiving a letter saying that my name was being placed on the Dean's List that she asked a friend at work whether I'd lose my scholarship.] Social Studies exposed me to the great scholars in history, political science, economics, sociology and pyschology. Hoffmann's exciting course on War [Soc Stud 112, I still remember] examined that subject from numerous disciplines. I owe him and that program an enormous intellectual debt.

When I was a senior, Hoffmann also helped me much more than my official thesis adviser as I researched and wrote a study of Eisenhower administration policy toward the Middle East. When I returned to Harvard for graduate school, he was always helpful with advice and even gave me an exciting job teaching international affairs in the Social Studies program.

I'm a better scholar, and maybe even a better person, thanks to Stanley Hoffmann.

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