Amherst Magazine

Henry Steele Commager: Celebrating One of Amherst’s Legends

Submitted by (inactive)
On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007 at 3 p.m. in Pruyne Auditorium (Fayerweather 115), Amherst College will honor the life and career of one of America’s most important historians and teachers with a symposium on “Henry Steele Commager: Celebrating One of Amherst’s Legends.” Featuring prominent historians, lawyers and others who knew Commager well, the event marks the end of a year-long special project by the Amherst College Library’s Archives and Special Collections to arrange and describe Commager’s papers, making them available for the public.

The October 27 Amherst College symposium is open to the public at no charge. The event will feature:

  • William Alford ‘70, the Henry L. Stimson Professor of Law, vice dean for the graduate program and international legal studies, and director of East Asian legal studies at Harvard University. He will give an intellectual portrait of Commager.
  • Hugh Hawkins, the Anson D. Morse Professor of History and American Studies, Emeritus at Amherst College. He will discuss Commager as colleague.
  • Robert W. Hawkins ’71, a partner at the Washington, D.C. office of Hunton & Williams and a specialist in international commercial arbitration. He will reflect on Commager as mentor.
  • Milton Cantor, professor of history emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He will discuss Commager and McCarthyism.
  • Mary Powlesland Commager, Latin American historian and Commager’s widow.

Henry Steele Commager was a prominent professor and public intellectual whose 60-year career (1930-1990) helped define liberal intellectual academia. A member of the Amherst College faculty from 1956 to 1992, Commager was instrumental in creating the field of American studies when he taught at Cambridge University in 1942-43. He lectured throughout Europe on American life during and after World War II and spoke powerfully, prolifically and publicly on civil liberties, the expansion of executive powers and the Watergate affair. He argued against loyalty oaths and McCarthyism, spoke critically of Vietnam, and argued persuasively on the importance of education in American life. Commager’s words resonate in today’s political climate as much as when they were spoken.