Thoughts on Lawrence Levine

Submitted January 11, 2007, 5:00 PM

Marty Sherwin
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Martin Sherwin January 5, 2007 AHA Meeting, Atlanta Remarks for Memorial Service for Larry Levine at the AHA ‘07 Larry Levine was my colleague, my friend and a role model whose advice I sometimes followed to a fault. Larry meant a lot to me and I am sure that he never knew why. He never knew why because he did nothing more special for me than to be his self. I met Larry and Cornelia in 1967 (or ’68) when they returned to Berkeley from a sabbatical. I was a new faculty member-- an insignificant one as my title made clear. I was an “Acting Assistant Professor,” which suggested (rather accurately, I thought) that I was to act like a professor while not quite being one. But there I was “imbedded” in a high powered department of 50 or so accomplished, important historians. Moreover, I had come from UCLA, which, at the time-- from the Berkeley perspective -- was a little sister school. As you might imagine I was anxious and insecure. And, I also should mention, I was a mere 2 year hire still trying to finish my dissertation. It was a formula for psychological destruction. But Larry and Cornelia, and their best friends, Leon and Rhoda Litwack, saved me from that fate. First, they genuinely befriended Susan and me. But most important of all Larry and Leon took me seriously as a colleague and, slowly, I began to believe I wasn’t just “acting.” When Larry was going to discuss the atomic bombing of Hiroshima he took me to lunch and asked me about my dissertation. He told me what he was going to say – and then HE asked me IF HE had it right. When I suggested a slightly different interpretation, he asked me about my evidence; some of it convinced him. That conversation was more important to me than passing my PhD oral examination, or any other single event in my graduate education. Suddenly, I saw myself as a scholar—a historian whose work made a difference to how a respected Berkeley professor interpreted an event. And that professor was Lawrence W. Levine. I have other stories like that, but this one makes the point: Larry knew how to be a good colleague, how to mentor an inexperienced new faculty member and how to be a friend. And all he did, he did instinctively. Collegiality, friendship, and support were his natural instincts. But as we all know, when he confronted colleagues who he believed were supporting injustice his behavior was anything but collegial, friendly or supportive. Larry’s dominant characteristics were PASSION and INDEPENDENCE. During my years at Berkeley, 1967-’71, Larry had an enormous rabbinical beard. When I first met him I swear that I imagined I was meeting Michelangelo’s Moses. It was a beard that made a statement – I am who I am. Don’t tread on me. I do things my way. And he did –and he did them passionately. That is one of the primary reasons we are here today. Larry changed the way many of us think about history; he changed the way many of us write history; and he changed the way many of us teach history. Larry (and Leon) talked and wrote about popular culture to their classes. Larry discussed comic books, films, television shows, and while he was teaching he was always thinking. His students stimulated his imaginative juices and many of his class room thoughts ended up in his innovative books. I’m guessing, but I am willing to wager that it was the stimulation of the classroom that drew him to George Mason after he retired from Berkeley. Larry never wanted to work in a vacuum; he worked best in a crowd. Students and colleagues stimulated his fertile mind. And he stimulated his colleagues. In many important ways he opened my eyes to how much potential was being ignored in my own field—diplomatic history. So, when I discuss novels, show students a feature film, or direct a senior thesis on “The Nuclear Issue in American Comic Books, 1945-1975,” I think of Larry Levine, and how great it was to know him, to be his colleague and, most wonderfully, his friend. I miss him – I know we all do. --end--

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