Why You Should Be Reading the In Memoriam Section

How much time have you spent with the In Memoriam section of Perspectives on History? Admittedly, it may not sound like the most dynamic section of the magazine, but I’m willing to bet that after you read Jennifer Reut’s essay in the current issue, you’ll reconsider.

“I should be honest here,” she writes, “editing the In Memoriam essays was always bittersweet. I was being introduced to the work of a lively and productive scholar, more often than not working right up until the end, at precisely the moment when it was too late to hope for more from him or her. And the essays always managed to capture something of their characters as well as their work—their investment in their institutions, their manner with students, their fabulous dinner parties—so that you wished you’d met them in another way.”

Those of us who work on these essays are reminded every month that a pioneering and fascinating generation of historians is disappearing right before our eyes. Just in the last few months, Perspectives has featured essays on historians who fought in horrific wars, escaped Nazi Germany, taught the first women’s history course at their institution, taught Marx during the Cold War (or were Marxists during the Cold War), joined labor movements, engaged in civil rights struggles, and made history even as they devised some of the boldest interpretations of history we are ever likely to see.

One feels their absence more poignantly when editing the In Memoriam section of the newsmagazine, as Reut explains. We hope readers will gain that sense as well; we suggest reading an In Memoriam essay about someone you’ve never heard of, who’s not in your field, who’s not famous but contributed to the discipline in quiet ways. Read a few of these and you’ll gain the sense of urgency we feel to collect and publish these essays. And we hope some readers will be moved to write down their memories of a colleague we may have missed.

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  1. RT

    I am convinced. Following your suggestion, I read Jennifer Reut’s essay. Ah, the joys of reading something worth reading. Hey, I may not know much about historians, but I know good writing when I read it. Thank you.

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