The academic world that I first encountered was one of both intellectual beauty and profound flaws. I was taught at Princeton, in the early 1960s—in history and literature, above all—before the congeries that we term “the ’60s” began. Most of my professors were probably men of the left—that’s what the surveys tell me—but that fact was never apparent to me, because, except in rare cases, their politics or even their ideological leanings were not inferable from their teaching or syllabi. Reasoned and informed dissent from professorial devil’s advocacy or interpretation was encouraged and rewarded, including challenges to the very terms of an examination question.
In retrospect, professors who must have disagreed fundamentally with works such as David Donald’s “Lincoln Reconsidered” (with its celebrated explanation of the abolitionists’ contempt for Lincoln in terms of the loss of status of their fathers’ once-privileged social group) assigned them for our open-minded academic consideration. My professor of Tudor-Stuart history, emerging from the bitter Oxbridge debates over explanations of the English Civil War in terms of class conflict, assigned Jack Hexter’s stunning “Reappraisals in Social History” to us. When I opined to him somewhat apprehensively that Hexter appeared to have exposed the tendentious use of statistics in my professor’s own prior work, he replied, “You’re absolutely correct.” These were not uncommon experiences in Princeton’s classrooms, and I knew, then and there, that I wanted both to do history and to teach.
Clusty Search: Alan Charles Kors.