The pundits' favorite historian.
The pundits' favorite historian.
The history behind current events.
June 7 2006 1:47 PM

Richard Hofstadter

The pundits' favorite historian.

(Continued from Page 1)

More than his status as a Jew or a New Yorker, Hofstadter's intellectual identity and style were rooted in his liberalism. Plenty of other New York Jewish thinkers, after all, chose radicalism or neoconservatism in these years as their abiding creeds. Hofstadter's Jewishness no doubt contributed, in a post-Holocaust world, to his fear of the McCarthyite "masses" and later of the New Left's violence against the university. But his deep commitment to openness of thought and argument, to the life of the mind, was surely the more important factor.

This commitment comes through in a nifty list that Brown has compiled of all Hofstadter's doctoral advisees. The diversity is remarkable. His students range from Eric Foner, now America's leading historian of Reconstruction, to the intellectual and women's historian Linda Kerber, the current president of the American Historical Association; from radical-turned-conservative Christopher Lasch to presidential biographer Robert Dallek; from Lawrence W. Levine, the cultural historian whose work blew apart distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow, to Michael Wallace, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gotham: A History of New York City.


Like the late John Kenneth Galbraith, Hofstadter has been faulted for leaving behind no coherent "school" of history, no set of disciples. But for a man who once said to Foner, "I'm not a teacher, I'm a writer," to have tutored such a splendid variety of historians shows that he imbued his students with something more precious than the ability to write history his way. He taught them to write history their way.

David Greenberg, a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, has written for Slate since 1996. He is the author of several books of political history.

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