My friend Wayne Bodle, another alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, wrote to me yesterday with some remembrances of an emeritus Professor, Richard Beeman, who died Monday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He has agreed to let me share them with you, and we both invite any of you who knew Rick to share your memories too–whether you are “Old Pennsters” (as Richard Dunn calls us) or not.
Here are Wayne’s memories of Rick, which go back almost as far as Rick’s “freshman year” as a professor in 1968–
Rick came to Penn in the fabled fall of 1968, straight out of the U. of Chicago. He genially, and not confrontationally, recognized himself to be a traditionalist of a certain order. When Mike Zuckerman was reading chapters of my Valley Forge project (as an in-progress National Park Service report), and telling me it could be a dissertation, he ran one chapter by Rick one summer. (Rick was a summer Maine vacationer, as you doubtless know). The feedback, via Mike, was that it was not how Rick would have done, or advised, it, but yeah, he could be a second or third reader. He ended up being a second reader.
When I went to see him (up in the old Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies building at 38th and Walnut, long before it became the McNeil Center) about this I said what does it need? He said what do *you* think it needs? I said a historiographical introductory chapter. He said that’s what I think, now go do it. So I went and did it, although the first sentence said that the historiography of Valley Forge begins with the fact that there really was no historiography, per se, of Valley Forge.
Rick loaned me his seminar at Penn in the fall of 1991 (again from Maine, when his deanship came to him from out of the blue). He said “I’ve ordered about six books–” (this was in mid-August), “you don’t have to use any of them, but if you do, you’ll need to order some more.” He pointed out that his take on the Revolution was old-school high politics, and he more than welcomed my approaching it differently, which I did. He even acknowledged that military history was out of his bailiwick.
By this time I had met and actually worked with Linda Kerber, so I began the syllabus with her essay ‘the Revolutionary Generation’. I tried to use ‘generation’ as an analytic theme for the course.
Rick later, as a member of the committee, made a real effort to get me a major book prize for The Valley Forge Winter (2002), all the time warning that it was an outside shot, as his fellow committeemen were even more traditionalist than he was, and he was coming around, at least on the military part.
It was a generous prize, but his effort meant even more. He wrote a bunch of letters for me. I never had him for an actual class.
Thanks, Wayne. I’ll share some of my memories in the comments below later–gotta get to class!–but I hope I won’t be the first. Yesterday on Twitter, Andrew Lipman shared this clip from one of Beeman’s appearances on the Daily Show with John Stewart, which I thought captures a slightly more subdued and deferential side of the man.
I’m about as different a historian from Rick Beeman as you can get and still be in the same profession, but I too have my pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution always at the ready.