Thoughts on the Death of Daniel Boorstin
Daniel Boorstin, a former Librarian of Congress and one of America's best-known historians, died yesterday at the age of 89. Some random thoughts:
- I'm weirdly intrigued by the fact that Boorstin once taught at my alma mater, Swarthmore College. If you want evidence that academia has changed in recent decades, consider the fact that Boorstin taught at Swarthmore, Harvard, Radcliffe, and Chicago without ever having earned a Ph.D.
- I'm a history graduate student, and I like to think that I'm interested in reading most anything about history; Daniel Boorstin was one of America's best-known popular historians. Nevertheless, I've never really been tempted to pick up one of his books (all that I've seen of his work has seemed kind of shallow), and I don't get the impression that anyone else I know was very interested in his writing, either. Why? Does this say anything about popular history or about Boorstin's approach? Is it a result of his age or his political conservatism? Am I wrong to have passed over Boorstin's work?
- Does anyone else find it odd that The New York Times chose to describe one trilogy of Boorstin works as "a vast edifice of scholarship and words"? This obituary was very sloppily written...
- Fun fact of the day: Boorstin's father was involved in the legal defense of Leo Frank, the Jewish factory worker (falsely accused of murder) who was at the center of an anti-Semitic controversy.
- How many other famous people can you name who agreed to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee? How many other supporters of Turner's frontier hypothesis are still around? How many other historians can you think of who describe Edward Gibbon's work as a model for their own?
I'll add links to other obituaries if I find any of interest.
(I guess I was premature in my prediction that I wouldn't be writing much this weekend. Even so, more interesting stuff will come later in the week--I promise! Now it's back to the dissertation proposal...)
Update: Ralph Luker has written a Cliopatria entry that's amusingly similar to mine. It seems that we were on the same wavelength this evening... Posted by Ed at February 29, 2004 05:34 PM