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Necrology: Daniel Aaron (1912–2016)


Present at the creation of American Studies, Daniel Aaron belongs on the short list of the academy's most learned and admired custodians of the nation's culture, for which President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2011. That would have been close to seven decades after the inauguration of Aaron's teaching career. A president of the American Studies Association (ASA), he held the rank of Victor S. Thomas Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard, where his service included chairing its Committee on American Civilization. The lengthy span of Aaron's life in the profession, punctuated by many other honors (including the ASA's Bode-Pearson Prize), has few, if any, counterparts in duration and distinction. Such was the arc of his career and concerns that, as this necrology is intended to suggest, the field of American Studies will not see his like again.

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1 Aaron, Daniel, The Americanist (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 92, 117.

2 Klingenstein, Susanne, Enlarging America: The Cultural Work of Jewish Literary Scholars, 1930–1990 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1998), 9798 ; Aaron, 46–47, 60.

3 Quoted in Klingenstein, 104; Aaron, Daniel, American Notes: Selected Essays (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994), xvi.

4 Klingenstein, 102; “Obituary,” New York Times, 29 Sept. 1891.

5 Quoted in Matt Schudel, “Daniel Aaron, Scholar Who Helped Develop Academic Field of American Studies, Dies at 103,” Washington Post, 2 May 2016.

6 Aaron, The Americanist, 122, 191.

7 Aaron, Daniel, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961), 392–93.

8 Wald, Alan M., “Introduction to the Morningside Books Edition,” in Aaron, Daniel, Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), xiii–xxxi, xxiii, xxvi.

9 Wald, xiii–xiv, xv.

10 Quoted in “People,” Time, 28 Dec. 1970, 22.

11 Quoted in Aaron, Daniel, The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973), xiv; Mark Feeney e-mail to author, 23 April 2009 (hard copy in possession of author).

12 Aaron, American Notes, 190.

13 Blight, David, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 165–67.

14 Aaron, Americanist, 195; Peter Costa, “A Conversation with Daniel Aaron,” Harvard Gazette, 21 Feb. 1992, 5–7, 6.

15 Costa, 5; Aaron, The Americanist, 136.

16 Schudel, “Daniel Aaron”; Sam Roberts, “Daniel Aaron, Critic and Historian Who Pioneered American Studies, Dies at 103,” New York Times, 4 May 2016, A19; Costa, 5.

17 Aaron, The Americanist, 192; Bercovitch, Sacvan, “1993 Bode-Pearson Prize Awarded to Daniel Aaron,” American Studies Association Newsletter, 17 (June 1994), 6.

18 Aaron, Americanist, 190.

19 Quoted in Mark Feeney, “Daniel Aaron, 103; was Harvard Professor,” Boston Globe, 2 May 2016.

20 Hayim Goldgraber, letter to author, 16 July 2016, and Shael Herman, letter to author, 15 Aug. 1996 (copies in possession of author).

21 Quoted in Baker, Leonard, Brandeis and Frankfurter: A Dual Biography (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), 348–49.

22 Quoted in Schultz, Kevin M., Tri-faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 10.

23 Bercovitch, 6.

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
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