Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Congratulations Ned Landsman

I just learned that my Ph.D adviser, Ned Landsman of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is the winner of Stony Brook's Graduate Award for Best Faculty Mentor.

I could not have asked for a better dissertation adviser.  Ned was a very sharp critic of my work.  He made me a better writer and historical thinker.  Whenever I submitted a piece of writing to Ned I could expect it to be covered in red ink.  Though I dreaded (and still do) the prospects of having him see something I have written, the project is always better after Ned has had a chance to comment on it.

His work has profoundly influenced my teaching and scholarship.  I use his "From Colonial to Provincials" approach to colonial America as the dominant theme of the course I teach on the subject. Last Fall I used his Crossroads of Empire as well. Ideas that I learned in Ned's seminar on the "Social World of the Enlightenment" are at the heart of my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Ned knew when it was time to be “hands on” with his advisees and when it was time to let them explore their own paths of research and argument.  I vividly remember being summoned to Ned’s office at a time when I was preparing my dissertation proposal.  I had chosen a rather obscure and traditional topic about religious life in colonial New Jersey, a field that Ned knew well.  While I think Ned was glad that I was proposing a project that was close to his own interests, he wanted to meet with me to suggest a different project, one on native American religion and culture in the Georgia-Florida borderlands.  He thought that this topic would make me a better job candidate.  I did not take his advice and wrote the dissertation on New Jersey, but I always appreciated the fact that Ned was looking out for me in this way. 

Perhaps the greatest contribution Ned made to my scholarly career was his willingness to introduce me to the community of early American scholars at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  I probably would not have received a McNeil Center doctoral fellowship if it were not for Ned’s influence.  As it turns out, Ned became the first former MCEAS fellow to have one of his students accepted as a fellow.  (He likes to bring this up).  I will always remember the long drives from Long Island to Philadelphia to attend McNeil Center seminars.  Sometimes Ned would bring a group of his students and others times it was just me.  The conversations about early American history that took place in his Subaru or on the train were some of the most important experiences of my early professional life.  

I am thrilled that Ned is being recognized for his work as a teacher, mentor, and scholar.  Well deserved!