Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


In Memoriam: Alfred F. Young

As an NIU colleague of Alfred Young’s for years I can attest that there was no truer friend, no stauncher fighter for what was right, no better model of what a senior colleague should be and stand for, or for how a committed scholar, sensing the right moment, could literally change the way many, many thousands of others understood their citizenship, their country, and their world. Al stood always against prejudice and irresponsible use of power. When the Illinois Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities blocked the hiring of Staughton Lynd in clear violation of academic freedom, Al (along with Christopher Lasch) led a national condemnation of this copycat McCarthyism. When a spokesman for the old “elite” history department announced that new Ph.D. granting departments, “inferior” places he alleged, training too many students, should be put out of business by an AHA accreditation scheme, Al responded, along with Emory Evans and this writer, that—whereas the old elite departments were still producing the vast majority of the Ph.D.s—it was the newer graduate departments that were opening access to the Ph.D. to non-traditional female, black, and non-elite students. They were often, as well, the ones pioneering new, non-traditional, non-geographic fields of study. (See http://www.historians.org/pubs/Evans.pdf.)

In more ways than can possibly be saluted here, Al was a badly needed conscience for a boisterous new department and a rapidly changing profession. From the 1960s onward at NIU, he was as able a defender of those in historical scholarship who were struggling to rise “from the bottom up” as he was a brilliant expositor of the lives of men and women who had helped, from the same station in life, to make an American revolution. Pax vobiscum, Alfred.

Mary Furner, University of California, Santa Barbara