Henry Steele Commager: Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present

By Neil Jumonville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Columbia and New York
in the Forties,
1938–1950

In 1938, two years after his Theodore Parker was published, Commager was invited to move 110 blocks uptown from New York University and join the history department at Columbia. His academic career had been blessed. Beginning as an instructor at nyu in 1926 with his dissertation on Struensee not yet finished, by 1931 he was already a full professor at age twenty-nine. After a dozen years in the field, after The Growth of the American Republic and Theodore Parker, Commager was prominent enough to be romanced by other departments.

Columbia, on the eve of World War II, was not quite the university it would become in the next two decades, but it was the major university in the nation's most exciting city, and it had an impressive tradition behind it. Intellectual and scholarly weight had been provided to the school in the early part of the century by the presence on the faculty of James Harvey Robinson (1895–1919) in history, Charles Beard (1904–17) in political science, and John Dewey (1904–30) in philosophy.

When Commager arrived on campus in 1939 and moved into the history department's quarters arranged on the sixth floor of Fayerweather Hall, Columbia was beginning to be an even more interesting university. Lionel Trilling, who had done his graduate work on campus and then started as an instructor in 1931, was one building away in the English department, where he was promoted to assistant professor the year Henry moved into Fayer-

-51-

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