In Memoriam: Alfred F. Young
Al Young possessed the rare combination of being a deeply insightful scholar and a truly generous person. Like most of us, the first time I encountered Al Young was through his writing, in my case, reading a typescript version of his “Transforming Hand of Revolution” essay, before the book was published—he had let Ron Hoffman, editor of that collection, use it in the graduate class that Ron was teaching.1 Of everything I read, that essay most shaped how I thought about the historiography of the Revolution, how the field’s landscape evolved, of historiography in general, and, to some extent, of the history of the academy as well. Of course, I then voraciously read his edited collections and many of his writings, nearly all of them inspiring. But I didn’t meet him personally until the brilliant, 2003 conference on class in the Atlantic World that Billy Smith and Simon Middleton organized, one at which, I would guess, nearly everyone had been deeply influenced by Al’s scholarship. His positively mentioning my work, even if in passing, in his talk reviewing the conference was likely little noticed by other attendees, but to me as a junior scholar, it came as signal validation. More recently, we began emailing after he asked for a copy of an essay that I had presented at the Ohio Seminar in Early American History and Culture, a conversation we continued about a topic of scholarly interest to both of us, the contemporary memory of the American Revolution. He took the time to read my work, and read it generously, sending his trademark comments that no doubt many of us have received, comments that well reflected Al: direct, insightful, and with the occasional typo that, like the tone of his impeccable scholarship, said in effect that he made no bones about who he was and what he stood for. And that scholarship was for more than us specialists, as I continued to assign The Shoemaker and the Tea Party to every level from introductory classes to graduate seminars, with each level of student drawing something different from it. I wasn’t the only one—the book still sells three thousand to four thousand copies a year, most of them in the academic market. There, too, he was endlessly generous, answering by email my students’ questions that I relayed to him. Maybe he’s best remembered in his response to one of those, in which they asked if he perceived himself as just as passionate about history in person as he is on the page: “I think yes. In fact I would say I have to suppress the level of enthusiasm on the page because of the conventions of historical writing, especially in early American history which imposes a good deal of conservatism in style.”
Along with Jesse Lemisch and Staughton Lynd, Al did as much as anyone to push back against that conservatism not only ideologically and stylistically, but just as importantly, with the liberality (in the fine eighteenth-century sense) with which he shared his knowledge, his time, and his great sense of practicing history as a common endeavor.
Andrew M. Schocket, Bowling Green State University
1 Alfred F. Young, “American Historians Confront ‘The Transforming Hand of Revolution,’” in Peter Albert and Ronald Hoffman, eds., “The Transforming Hand of Revolution”: Reconsidering the American Revolution as a Social Movement (Charlottesville, Va., 1996), 346–492.