Linda Kerber is retiringHistorians in the News
tags: womens history
I’m a historian. Books are my trade. A historian guards memories, including her own; a historian’s duty is to gather books, to save correspondence, to keep. I filled my shelves — in my office, in my home — to overflowing.
Despite repeated resolutions to build coherent collections (of first editions in the history of women, of ephemera from the days of the Vietnam War), I acquired my books haphazardly. Books by historians. Books I assigned to my students. Books written by my friends. Books I wrote. Or edited. Books I wanted to read. Books I read carefully. Books I intended to read but didn’t. Books I never intended to read.
I’ve got worn books from my days at Barnard (Malcolm Cowley’s Exile’s Return), graduate school at Columbia (all of Richard Hofstadter’s); my husband’s from Columbia’s required "Contemporary Civilization" course, anthologies in which no woman except maybe Hannah Arendt seemed ever to have had a thought worthy of study. Biographies and autobiographies. Some fiction, some poetry (Robert Penn Warren’s Brother to Dragons: "All night long History drips in the dark / and if you step where no light is / the floor will be slick to your foot").
These books conjure up my life. Thus Martin Duberman’s Charles Francis Adams — there’s not much in it now for me, but it surely helped me develop a sense of the rhythm of language. Another book so dense that I’ll never open it again, but I once chaired the committee that gave it a prize, so now it’s part (isn’t it?) of my own history.
Now that I’ve retired from teaching, I have to clear out of my office — 226 feet of shelves of books; 21 file drawers in three cabinets and two desks; four cartons of copied research materials, though I no longer have any idea what is in them. ...
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