Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


In Memoriam: Al Young

The Newberry Library lost a friend last week. More than a friend. For more than two decades Alfred F. Young was the heart and soul of the Library’s community of scholars. When he retired (for the second time) to Durham, the Fellows’ Seminar changed. But when I left two years ago it still bore the marks of Al’s influence. I suspect it always will.

When I arrived at the Newberry as a Fellow in 1989, I encountered a community of scholars—nurtured genially and ingeniously by Dick Brown—who seemed rather mysterious. Some of the names were familiar from their publications, especially in early American history. But their roles in the Newberry’s community seemed a bit murky, at least to my naïve observation. The hardest to learn was Al Young’s role. To me, he was initially “Alfred F. Young,” a legendary figure in the historiography of the American Revolution and early republic. But very quickly he was simply Al—the man who eagerly engaged everyone on their own terms, across disciplines, to learn more about what they were doing. And to help them do it better. He was interested in everyone’s work.

I was at the Newberry for twenty-one years and Al’s presence was central to my life there in so many ways. I learned from him, enjoyed spending time with him, and sought his advice frequently. There is an image I will always remember: In the mid-1990s we shifted the Fellows Seminar from an oral presentation to precirculated papers. We would all arrive in the Fellows’ Lounge with a copy of the paper. Not Al. He would sit at the table with a stack of books. He came prepared.

James Grossman, Executive Director, American Historical Association

Source: “In Memoriam: Al Young,” November 14, 2012, http://www.newberry.org/memorium-al-young. Published with author’s permission.