Edmund Sears Morgan, 1916-2013

By Arkin, Marc M. | New Criterion, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Edmund Sears Morgan, 1916-2013


Arkin, Marc M., New Criterion


Edmund Sears Morgan, a Sterling Professor of American History Emeritus at Yale University, died on Monday, July 8, 2013 at the age of ninety-seven. The news brought me back to a September afternoon in 1974 when I entered upon what, in retrospect, would be the single most formative experience of my professional life. Along with eight or nine other first-year graduate students, I took my seat at the long seminar table in Mr. Morgan's (as he then was to us) book-filled office in Yale's Hall of Graduate Studies to begin his legendary seminar in American Colonial History. A bottle of sherry and some plastic glasses soon materialized on the table (to my recollection, it was Harvey's Shooting Sherry), as did photocopies of a document written in Elizabethan court hand. We spent the rest of the afternoon learning to translate that treacherous and heavily abbreviated script. It was Ed's way of introducing us to the craft of a professional historian, which, in his view, meant staying close to the primary sources and letting the past speak for itself.

As Princeton's John Murrin has written, the seminar was an "intellectual delight." Over its course, we graduated from small research projects to presenting a full-fledged paper--the presenter responsible for the week's sherry and rewarded with a private conference with Ed. Along the way, we were continually dazzled by Ed's command of every aspect of colonial history from Puritan theology to the unintended consequences of British tax policy, always leavened with his dry humor and impish smile. I distinctly remember him explaining that since the English taxed tobacco exports by the hogshead, Virginians developed a tobacco barrel that weighed something over a ton, so enormous that it could only be loaded on a ship by being rolled up the gangway by means of a huge spoke inserted top to bottom. Ed thrived in the realm of the specific. But he also offered the broader apercu. One of his most memorable observations was that we would be more at home if we were instantly transported to present-day Tokyo than if we found ourselves in the same spot in New Haven two hundred years earlier. It is a remark that I always hear when I am tempted to confuse the past with the present.

Later, Ed asked me to be one of the teaching assistants for his immensely popular under-graduate survey course in colonial history. The weekly sessions he spent with us preparing for our discussion groups were, if anything, even more intellectually stimulating than his graduate seminar. As I now realize, he was trying to pass on his own capacity for being open to the sources, and, through us, to transmit that gift to his undergraduates. Together, we read letters home from the early Jamestown settlers describing a land of wild strawberries and giant oysters, dripping with plenty. Then Ed asked us, if this were so, why did colonists starve to death? His answer, subsequently embodied in the Beveridge Award--winning American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, was that the settlers' self-image as gentlemen precluded manual labor; quite simply, they were willing to starve rather than soil their hands. Or, as he memorably put it, in setting up Jamestown, the Virginia Company "sent the idle to teach the idle." The Virginians' ultimate solution, of course, was to have other people, primarily slaves, do the work for them.

Ed's undergraduate lectures were a marvel of the art. I can still recall his bravura turn on the battle of Bunker Hill--the sweating British regulars carrying their full eighty pound kits, tricked out in heavy wool coats, struggling up the hill in the brutal summer sun, holding formal ranks, sitting ducks for the American militiamen who had grown up hunting small game with their long-bore rifles. One aside has always stuck with me--the British army training manual did not include instructions to teach infantrymen how to aim their muskets. In that small detail, Ed captured the ethos of the entire conflict. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Edmund Sears Morgan, 1916-2013
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.