Monday, December 2, 2013

Michael Kammen, R.I.P.

I never got a chance to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen, but I learned a lot from his work in American cultural history. Whenever I read one of Kammen's books I would find myself amazed at his innovative approach to scholarship.  He was, in many ways, an American cultural historian before the so-called "cultural turn." Kammen was the first historian I encountered who was exploring the contours of American memory. I still regularly consult Mystic Chords of Memory and A Machine The Would Go Itself.   I have spent a lot of time in the Mystic Chords for some of my ongoing work on the history and memory of the Greenwich Tea Burning.  And his history of colonial New York still stands the test of time.

Here is an obituary from the Organization of American Historians:
The OAH is saddened to learn of the passing of Michael G. Kammen. He died on November 29 2013 at the age of 77. He served as president of the Organization of American Historians from 1995 to 1996. 
Kammen was the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture (emeritus) at Cornell University, where he taught from 1965 until 2008. In 1980-81 he held a newly created visiting professorship in American history at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009 he received the American Historical Association's award for Scholarly Distinction. His books include People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (1972), awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1973;A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture (1986), awarded the Francis Parkman Prize and the Henry Adams Prize; Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (1991); A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture (2004), and Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture (2006). His most recent book was Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials (2010).
The Kammen family requests that memorial gifts (in lieu of flowers) be directed to the Michael Kammen Children's Book Fund at the Tompkins County Public Library, 101 Green St., Ithaca, NY 14850.
Ben Alpers at US Intellectual History has a nice obit on Kammen.

2 comments:

Paul Harvey said...

Just a few days ago, I happened to see Kammen's review of The Color of Christ, which he did for the Pacific Historical REview. I have no idea why he was reviewing the book at all, much less there in particular, but he did, and it was a witty, funny, gracious review, appreciative of good points and good-humored about (entirely justified) criticisms made. I was grateful such a scholar as Kammen reviewed it and did such a wonderful job with it, a model we all could follow for acts of professional service like that, beyond the wonderful works of cultural history he produced.

John Fea said...

That's a great story, Paul. Thanks.