In Memory of Roy Rosenzweig (1950-2007)
ObituariesWashington Post Obituary
Roy A. Rosenzweig, 57, a social and cultural historian at George Mason University who became a prominent advocate for "digital history," a field combining historical scholarship with digital media's broad reach and interactive possibilities, died Oct. 11 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He had lung cancer.
Dr. Rosenzweig, who taught history at GMU for the past 26 years, founded the university's Center for History and New Media in 1994. As its director, he oversaw the creation of online history projects aimed mostly at high school and college students, including Web sites about U.S. history, the French Revolution and the history of science and technology.
Perhaps its most visible project was the September 11 Digital Archive, a collection of 150,000 items -- including e-mails, digital voice mails, BlackBerry communications and video clips -- made by average citizens at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The center gave the materials to the Library of Congress in September 2003.
The center, part of GMU's Department of History and Art History, has more than 40 full- and part-time staff members.
Dr. Rosenzweig was an author, filmmaker and documenter of oral histories. His books, including a social history of New York's Central Park and the labor movement's struggle in the 19th century for a shorter workday, underscored his interest in presenting what he called "perspectives of ordinary men and women" over the wealthy and powerful.
In the early 1990s, he helped create an award-winning U.S. history survey presented on CD-ROM. He then started the Center for History and New Media, which stemmed from his wish "to democratize the study of the past -- both by incorporating forgotten voices and by presenting the fullest possible story of the past to diverse audiences."
Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, who conducted early digital history projects as a University of Virginia history professor, said Dr. Rosenzweig "was the real pioneer in this."...
Roy Rosenzweig, a historian and pioneer of digital technology and
new media, died from cancer on Oct. 11. Rosenzweig was the Mark and
Barbara Fried Chair and director of the Center for History and New
Media (CHNM), which he founded in 1994. CHNM has been at the forefront
of efforts to use new media and digital technology to promote an
inclusive and democratic understanding of the past while reaching new
and diverse audiences.
Just a few weeks ago, Rosenzweig was named as one of the Mason professors to lead CHNM in creating an online National History Education Clearinghouse. The online project will help K-12 history teachers become more effective educators and show their students why history is relevant to their daily lives.
Rosenzweig was involved in a number of different digital history projects, including web sites on U.S. history, historical thinking, the French Revolution, the history of science and technology, world history and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Earlier this year, Rosenzweig received the Distinguished Service Award from the Organization of American Historians in recognition of his contributions to significantly enriching the understanding and appreciation of American history.
Rosenzweig was a graduate of Columbia College and studied at St. John's College of Cambridge, England before receiving his PhD from Harvard University. Before coming to George Mason in 1981, he was an assistant professor of history and humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
In 2005, Rosenzweig's web-based project,"History Matters," earned him and the CHNM the James Harvey Prize of the American Historical Association. In 2003, he was awarded the second Richard W. Lyman Award for his work with CHNM, particularly the"History Matters" project and the September 11 Digital Archive.
The $25,000 prize recognized scholarly achievement of unusual merit and impact and innovative use of information technology in humanistic scholarship and teaching. These projects are attempts to make new and rare historical documents free and accessible to anyone and explore how technology can be used to enhance the study of history.
In 1999, Rosenzweig was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award, the commonwealth's highest honor for faculty at public and private colleges and universities in Virginia.
He was the coauthor of numerous books, including"The Park and the People: A History of Central Park," which won the 1993 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1993 Urban History Association Prize for Best Book on North American Urban History. He also co-wrote"The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life," which has won prizes from the Center for Historic Preservation and the American Association for State and Local History.
Rosenzweig was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and lectured as a Fulbright professor. He also served as vice president for research of the American Historical Association.
In AppreciationAmanda Shuman, PhD candiate in Chinese History, former student
If it weren't for Roy, I wouldn't be where I am today. Roy's advice,
generosity, inspiration, and encouragement had a large impact on my
life. I would probably not be pursing a PhD in history right now if I
had never met Roy.
One night in late October 2002, I went to visit Roy in his office on the GMU campus. I had made an appointment with him per another history professor's e-mail. I wanted to ask him about the History and New Media M.A. program. I always liked history and was an IT major and it seemed like the field was a perfect fit, though I wasn't sure it was practical. In fact, I was debating between instructional technology or history teaching. In the midst of our discussion about the program and CHNM, Roy asked about where I was currently working. I told him how much I disliked my IT consulting job. I was thinking of taking some classes part-time and possibly going back to school full-time in the future, though I wasn't sure how I would do this. Roy immediately encouraged me to apply for a job at CHNM. I was completely floored! I began working at CHNM soon thereafter.
In fall 2003, I took Roy's Clio Wired class. Our final website project could be on any topic we wished. Despite having trouble finding websites as sample models for my proposed topic, Roy encouraged me to pursue it anyway. My final project was a little website proposal called"Westerners in China." That was my first research project on Chinese history (ever). I enjoyed researching it so much that I subsequently took an East Asian history graduate class and Chinese language classes in preparation for a doctoral program in Chinese history. For two more years, I continued to work at CHNM. Roy was nothing but encouraging and even curious of my Chinese language studies. When I decided in 2005 to apply for PhD programs in Chinese history, he offered me application advice that was priceless and wrote recommendations for every school.
Roy was the pioneer in digital history and I am honored to have known him for that. Countless people have been inspired by what Roy has written, said, and accomplished. However, I feel especially blessed to have worked at CHNM and known him professionally as an extremely supportive and encouraging supervisor, co-worker, and professor, and personally as a colleague and friend.
Elena Razlogova, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Concordia University, Affiliated Scholar, CHNM; Associate Producer, Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives
Working with Roy, at the Center for History and New Media and as a student, gave one a unique understanding
of the purpose and practice of history. Roy founded CHNM because he considered new media a useful means to
democratize historical scholarship. In 1995, the Center consisted of the server in a closet, and I was its
only employee. Since then, Roy brought together an amazing crew-CHNM now employs over 40 people-and infected
us with his relentless work ethic. Some of us who"graduated" from the Center have since taken it as a model
for our own ventures in collaborative digital history.
At the Center and elsewhere, Roy applied his unreconstructed"new left" radicalism to new digital realities. In a new medium, the Center's projects continue Roy's early work in labor and public history-they take voices and interpretations of ordinary people seriously. This is evident both in the earliest and latest CHNM projects-from the CD-Rom Who Built America, a US history survey"from the bottom up," to the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, on Hurricane Katrina. Roy chose to collaborate on most of his books, despite historians' traditional preference for solitary research and writing. He argued for open access and"open source" scholarship at countless academic and government meetings, often with little result, but he never gave up. Thanks to him, articles in the American Historical Review are now open to the public.
To say that Roy was generous to students and junior colleagues would be an understatement. He read entire dissertations and book drafts for students and colleagues, even long after they had moved to other universities. Each time, he would write up pages of detailed suggestions for revision, complete with grammar and typo corrections. He was kind, but brought all of his diverse knowledge to bear on your project. One could always count on him to write a letter of recommendation or help with a grant application, no matter how exasperated he was with an inopportune or last-minute request. Once a university I had applied to unexpectedly requested a second long letter from him, to be emailed the same day, dealing specifically with my work in digital history. I went to his office, and he wrote it right then, in ten minutes, even though he was extremely busy. I got the job.
After working with Roy, it is easy to be a historian and a human being -one just needs to measure everything by his standards. But to those of us who knew him he is irreplaceable.
Joshua Brown, Executive Director, American Social History Project, City University of New York Graduate Center
Daniel Cohen, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University and the Director of Research Projects at the Center for History and New Media
Where to begin? It's the only possible response when asked to
remember Roy Rosenzweig. Academics are fortunate if they are able to
become pioneers or innovators in a single field; Roy managed to found
or advance at least three fields: social history, public history, and
digital history. And we often suspect that pioneers and innovators have
character flaws associated with the dogged pursuit of the cutting edge:
narcissism, aggression, humorlessness. Yet everyone who knew Roy was
amazed at his unparalleled combination of brilliance, insight, and
incredible hard work with humility, generosity, and laugh-out-loud
Eight years ago I received a call from Roy, who had heard through a mutual acquaintance that I had moved to Washington. I only vaguely knew of Roy, and had no idea why he should want to talk to me, but nevertheless agreed to meet him for lunch. I'm so profoundly thankful I answered his call.
Roy and I ate at a restaurant near his house and had some nice conversation. I thought little of our casual meeting until a year later, when Roy called me to say that he had just gotten a grant and had remembered a few points I had made over lunch and how relevant they were to the grant proposal. The only thing I could remember from a year earlier was that Roy was bursting with energy and ideas and had consumed more coffee over lunch than I drink in a week. We met again for lunch and by the end of the meal he had convinced me to come work with him.
That's how it began for me, and for countless others. Sitting on a panel with Roy at a conference, meeting randomly over coffee, receiving a congratulatory email from him about an article you had written. No matter how trivial the reason behind the first contact, Roy would remember you, and he would often move these minor encounters--the kind most of us have every day and think nothing of--onto a path toward collaboration and friendship.
I know of no one with as large an address book and as many friends as Roy. But he didn't just collect these acquaintances superficially, for show or for his own career ends like so many people do on Facebook or LinkedIn. As his social histories of the United States also emphasize, he viewed every human being as a special resource who brings unique talents and ideas into the world, and he liked nothing more than to connect people with each other.
Almost every topic of conversation prompted a welcome referral from Roy:"You should talk to my friend so-and-so, who has done some really interesting work on that subject." The history of family photos?"She wrote a great article on that." Standards for library catalogs?"Met this guy at the Library of Congress." Byzantine art? Documentary filmmaking? Preservation of eight-track tapes? Him, her, and you're not going to believe this but here's an email address for you. Now go contact them.
But Roy didn't just bring his many acquaintances together. He reveled himself in collaborating with others. Roy found it deeply unfortunate that unlike in the sciences, the humanities suffered from a serious lack of collaboration. He scoffed at the mythical ideal of the intellectual toiling alone on the great book. Roy co-authored over a dozen major works, not to mention the scores of highly collaborative digital projects at the Center for History and New Media, which he founded at George Mason University in 1994.
A typical but still remarkable moment occurred when Roy received the Richard W. Lyman Award (presented by the National Humanities Center and the Rockefeller Foundation) in 2003 for"outstanding achievement in the use of information technology to advance scholarship and teaching in the humanities." He got up on stage, used his computer to project a giant list of names onto a screen, and said,"These are all of the people I collaborated with on the projects that this award honors. These are the people that did the work, and I want to thank them."
Of course, that was just Roy being his usual humble self. Roy's collaborators will readily admit not only how wonderful but also how daunting it was to work with him. To paraphrase Paul Erdös, Roy was a machine for turning coffee into publications and websites. With his incredible mind and a large coffee nearly always by his side, he was able to produce such a wide and deep array of creative works. When we were writing a book together I would slowly plod along while insightful, beautiful prose seemed to pop off of his laptop at a disturbingly rapid pace. Working with him on a project forced you to elevate yourself, to do the best you could do.
Long before Roy became ill, the staff at the Center for History and New Media would ponder (when Roy was out of the room) what we would do decades hence, when we expected Roy would finally leave this world. In the spirit of Roy's humor, some of us decided that we would simply have to preserve his brain in a giant vat of fresh-brewed coffee. Others took their cue from science fiction and thought we could transfer his mind onto silicon for the continued benefit of future generations.
If only we could have done so. But perhaps in a partial sense that is what has happened over the last decade. Roy's thoughts and vision sit on the Center for History and New Media's server, silently connecting with thousands of people every day, and his books and articles connect with thousands more.
If only those people could have met Roy Rosenzweig in person. He would have liked to have had coffee with them.
--"Remembering Roy Rosenzweig" originally posted on www.dancohen.org
Jack Censer, Dean, George Mason Universty
During his twenty-six years at George Mason University, Roy Rosenzweig accomplished one miracle after another. The department could claim little national distinction before Roy came; every accomplishment that transpired over the next quarter century bears his mark. Roy worked tirelessly on history, and there is no doubt his reputation drew luminaries like the late Lawrence Levine and newcomer Martin Sherwin to our ranks. Likewise George Mason’s master’s program, enhanced by Roy’s appeal to students, developed into one of the most productive in the nation. Roy likely oversaw over 100 students through the capstone tutorial of our program. He also directed many thesis students in history and the Cultural Studies Program as well. Yet without a doubt, Roy’s greatest achievement was the Center for History and New Media. Launched in 1994, the center took form first as a sign on Roy’s office door. The roots of this Center lay in Roy’s work in association with the American Social History Project at CUNY, led by Steve Brier and now Josh Brown on the revision and digitalization of Herb Gutman’s textbook on U.S. History. This joint collaboration produced a cd-rom that began the digital revolution in history. And it also gave rise to an incredible burst of activity that created a Center with a $2.5 million endowment and grant awards of many millions. The upward trajectory has never slackened.
Here I really want to focus on Roy as a person. Of course, he was a tireless worker. When Daniele Struppa, previous dean of our college, was hoping to create a digital project across the humanities, he asked Steve Brier how it might be possible to amass sufficient manpower. Steve’s answer sticks in my mind, “Well you’ve got Roy. That’s five people.” When Roy and I taught together on two occasions, his preparation for class and his feedback to students showed this same indefatigable level of activity and energy.
Roy could not do enough for people. At the dawn of the age of the personal computer when he understood these newfangled machines as did few other humanities faculty, Roy was a one-man help desk. I called him more than once, but he assisted anyone who asked. He could not turn away anyone in need. He even went computer shopping with colleagues on more than one occasion. He did have one flaw or strength, depending on one’s point of view. He was absolutely dedicated to Apple, and all PC purchasers did have to accept his admonitions about the poor judgment of such a purchase.
Roy loved a party, and he and his wife, Deborah, hosted countless ones. Several years ago they moved from a bungalow to a very spacious home that, like their first house, always seemed to be filled with people. They frequently took in out-of-town colleagues who needed a place to bed down in the D.C. area. Roy and Deborah’s home was, in fact, a magnet that helped to counteract the centrifugal force of this gigantic metropolitan area whose terrible traffic often threatens to push us apart.
My last meetings with Roy illustrated important facets of his amazing character such as his sense of duty and lack of self-importance. Several weeks ago, as he was struggling with illness, he found it difficult to accomplish all he expected to do in running the Center. At this point, I was dean of the college so he asked me, what would be the impact of his inability to fulfill all his duties. Anyone would have been entitled to some slack under these circumstances. Roy would have been well within his rights to presume that his prior contributions and fame spoke for themselves, but instead his humility led him to ask about his obligations. He had presumed no quarter, and the incident illuminated his deep humanity. And, in our last meetings, as he knew the end was approaching, he told me that he was sorry to have put me through this. Facing death, he worried about my feelings. His self-abnegation and concern for others was never more striking.
These stories of Roy’s empathy for other and lack of self centeredness as he fought cancer revealed yet another important character trait, perhaps the most inspiring of all: his courage. I really have never had a hero, but Roy became one to me. I never heard him complain or bemoan his fate, as I and most others would have done. Roy just wanted to live and continue contributing. His example, I hope, will inspire in me more stoicism and determination in the face of difficulties than I have heretofore mustered. This one last gift may leave an indelible mark.
I shall miss Roy to the end of my days, but I shall cherish the numberless experiences we had together. As he was my comrade for so many years, there will always be a void by my side. I hope to fill it with my memories and by trying to maintain my end of our unshakeable bargain to cherish the department and the university as well as the study of history
Meredith H. Lair, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Art History, George Mason Universty
Other people can speak more intelligently about Roy's scholarship, more intimately about his friendship, than I. What I can say about Roy is that he set a standard of decency and kindness to which we should all aspire.
I began to suspect Roy was more than just a"big name" when I received notice that I had been rejected for a faculty position at Mason. Most search committees never take the time even to notify candidates that a position has been filled, but Roy wrote me personally. The letter was specific to me, not a form letter, and Roy included some handwritten personal remarks at the end. It was the nicest rejection letter I have ever received, so supportively written that it felt more like an affirmation of my work than a piece of unwelcome news. I mentioned the letter to an acquaintance of mine who had also unsuccessfully applied for the position. She replied that she too"had just gotten the world's nicest rejection letter" specially tailored to her. He did it for everyone. Two years later, after I had joined the faculty in a different position at Mason, I served on a search committee with Roy and saw the process from the other side. Despite that fact that he had served on dozens of such committees, that he had read the dossiers of hundreds, perhaps thousands of hopeful scholars, and that he had written too many rejection letters to count, Roy still worried over the feelings and careers of the bright young historians he could not employ--people he would never meet, people with no titles or grant money to bestow, individuals who might otherwise seem interchangeable in a profession so ruthlessly competitive. They mattered to Roy. And I will always remember, from that uncertain time in my life, how much it meant to me that I meant something to him.
Roy has left many legacies: a new field of history, a brilliant body of scholarship, his students, the department and Center he helped to build. Most important, though, is the standard of conduct he set for all of us in the profession. A half-hour after I found out Roy had died, I was standing reluctantly at the gate for a flight to yet another conference. For my sadness, I did not want to go, but I found myself asking,"What would Roy do?" I think we would all do well, in our current grief and when the stresses of academe become too much, to ask ourselves that question. What would Roy do? And the answer comes: be patient, be kind, have a coffee, and do the work.
Peter Stearns, Provost, George Mason Universty
Roy was obviously one of the most distinguished faculty. He was truly an imaginative historian, from his first book that I still use to the pioneering work he did on the Center for History and New Media. He will be greatly missed personally and professionally, but we will be building on his accomplishments for a long time to come.
Marion Deshmukh, Department of History & Art History, George Mason University
Roy's untimely death will leave an incredible void personally and professionally. Roy was instrumental in creating so many programs in the History Department and the university, from crafting courses leading to doctoral programs in cultural studies, in community college education, and in our PhD program in History and New Media, one of the most innovative in the country. As others have noted, Roy rarely turned down any request to colleagues or students, however burdensome. We always wondered when (and if) Roy slept---in his abbreviated life, cut short at its prime--Roy accomplished more than most of us can or will if we had ten lives.
Despite his many accomplishments: superb researcher and scholar, innovator in digital history, a terrific teacher and mentor to so many students, he was, as has also been noted, uncommonly modest and unassuming. He shunned the limelight, usually giving others far more credit for what he actually created, wrote, or conceptualized. His work for the AHA, OAH and countless other professional organizations attest to the wide respect he garnered from colleagues in the US and, indeed, throughout the world.
Being a close friend and colleague of Roy's for decades, this is an especially sad time. The department is mourning one of the truly best people we have ever known. Given his accomplishments, however, his name and creative ideas will, indeed, must live on.
Steve Brier, Founding Director, American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
My friendship with Roy goes back more than a quarter century. We met at the Radical History Review in the late 1970s, where we were both editors, hit it off pretty quickly because we were both interested in non-traditional ways to do and present history, especially to the public, and decided we’d work together on what would become the Public History issue of the RHR. That volume was our first collaboration and became Presenting the Past, the first book published (in 1986) in the Critical Perspectives on the Past series at Temple University Press that I had the good fortune to co-edit with Roy and the late Susan Porter Benson for more than twenty years.
When Herb Gutman and I launched the American Social History Project in 1981, Roy was on the first (and every subsequent) directors/advisory/editorial board we set up to help us run and advise ASHP. Roy helped us get the first edition of the Who Built America? textbook finished in 1989 and 1991, in the years after Herb Gutman died, serving then as Supervising Editor and on the two subsequent editions, as co-author. He advised ASHP on every one of our multimedia projects, including films and videos as well as teacher guides and teacher training projects.
Roy and I entered the wonderful world of computers together, buying matching Kaypro II computers (which ran the now defunct CPM operating system) in 1982, Roy to do his own academic work and my ASHP colleagues and me to write the WBA? textbook. Our early shared use of computers led us to begin to poke around the emerging field of computer controlled media in the late 1980s. I was down in Arlington visiting one time in 1989, I believe, and Roy and I took the Metro into DC near Union Station to visit a new exhibit of computer controlled training tools and programs that some company or museum was displaying (I remember that one of the exhibits focused on a laserdisc for training fire fighters). Out of that exposure emerged the idea that we really wanted to explore the uses of multimedia to do history. ASHP had been doing films and videos throughout the 1980s, but the computer opened up immense new vistas for improving the teaching and learning of history. Very soon after that (in 1990) I got a call from Bob Stein, who headed a company called Voyager, who said he wanted to turn the WBA? textbook (actually, only the first volume was out at that point) into the first electronic textbook and we (meaning ASHP and Roy) were off on the wild Toad’s ride of creating what became the first history CD-ROM, which Voyager published in 1993. That’s the origins of Roy’s (and our) descent (or ascent, depending on your perspective) into the wonderful world of multimedia. Everything that Roy did in digital media flowed out of that first collaborative experience, including his founding of the Center for History and New Media at GMU in 1994.
I spent a great deal of time down in Arlington with Roy at the Jackson house in those years writing and thinking about what the WBA? CD-ROM would look like. Sometime in that period (I can’t remember exactly when, but maybe 1992; my colleague, Josh Brown, says it was in the late 1980s), Deborah Kaplan, Roy’s partner and wife, despairing that Roy was never going to do anything other than work all the time on his computer, announced one night at the dinner table that she thought they both needed hobbies, things that would get them to focus on something other than their academic work. She suggested that they both think about what those new hobbies might be and we’d discuss it at dinner in a few nights. I was then witness to the following exchange (this is not a verbatim transcript, but it’s pretty damned close!):
Deborah (brightly): “Well, I’ve thought a lot about what my hobby should be and I’ve decided I’m going to take up gourmet cooking.”
Roy (sitting in uneasy silence):
Deborah (imploringly): “Roy, have you given this some thought? Have you come up with a hobby?”
Roy (hopefully): “Can the computer be my hobby?”
I laugh every time I think about this story (and as those who know me realize, I’ve probably told it a hundred times over the years). It speaks to Roy’s singlemindedness of purpose and his ridiculous intensity and capacity for work, which everyone who knew him admired and, at the same time, was daunted by. I learned after many years of collaborating with Roy on a variety of digital, print, and other kinds of projects that the best thing to do was sit back and admire that dedication and tenacity (and greatly benefit from it) and never, ever (unless you were a masochist) try to match it or him in output.
He was and will always be one of a kind, a brilliant, loving, intense, supportive and totally unique human being. He will be missed by all of us for a very long time, in large measure, because there is no one quite like him and there never will be. We miss you and we love you, Roy, and thank you for everything you did and gave us over these years. And, as Mike O’Malley said to me a few days after Roy died: “How are we supposed to get through things without Roy drawing up our To Do lists?”
Mills Kelly, Department of History & Art History, George Mason University
Yesterday we lost one of the greatest historians and greatest humans I’ll ever have the privilege to know. My colleague and friend Roy Rosenzweig passed away, surrounded by his family yesterday afternoon. Although I’ve known for a while that this was going to happen, I still can’t imagine the world without Roy.
I first met Roy through his words. In the late 1980s I was a PhD student at George Washington University and signed up for a course in American labor history, not because I have a great interest in the field, but because it fit my schedule. I only remember one book that I read that semester (I’m sure the others were good as well) and that was Roy’s Eight Hours for What We Will. That book was so good, I actually re-read it after the semester, just so I could enjoy it a second time, and it remains one of the few volumes of American history to have survived on the few bookshelves I can cram into my office here at George Mason.
I didn’t actually meet Roy for another decade. When I first became interested in how digital media might be transforming student learning in history courses in the late 1990s, the only historian’s work that really spoke to my interests and concerns was Roy’s. Somehow I found my way to the first website of the Center for History and New Media and was very impressed by the work that Roy and his colleagues at George Mason were doing. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that someday I would be named the Associate Director of the Center.
But in the fall of 2000 I saw an ad in Perspectives for a senior digital historian at Mason. The ad had a very short closing date, so rather than applying, I called Roy directly to find out what was going on with the search and whether I, a mere untenured assistant professor, might be considered for the position.
That was the first time I ever spoke to Roy and in many ways it sums up his most defining characteristic–his generosity. Instead of telling me that he couldn’t really give me many details of the search process, he took a good half an hour to explain, in detail, what was happening with that particular search. He very gently told me that, no, I could not be considered for that position, because the department had been given permission to make a senior hire and so they really needed to hire someone already tenured. But then he told me that the department had a second search going on–for a Western Civilization Coordinator–and that I really should apply for that, since much of my work in the scholarship of teaching and learning had been focused on my Western Civ courses. He also gave me a number of useful hints about how to pitch my letter of application to the search committee.
Those who knew Roy well know that he was almost never without a cup of coffee. Well, when I had my AHA interview, Roy was there–it was in a hotel room and the committee members mostly sat on the edges of the beds while I sat in a chair. Five minutes into the interview, Roy kicked over his cup of coffee that he had set on the floor, and we all spent a few minutes cleaning up. I remember thinking that the next person to interview would wonder what in the world had happened to the carpet in that room!
When I came to campus, it was Roy who really sold me on the job at Mason. After a full day of interviewing, he drove me to dinner with several future colleagues and asked me what he could do to help convince me to take the job. The fact that Roy wanted me to work here was the final straw–there was no way I could say no after that.
That was in 2001. For the past six years I have been one of literally dozens and dozens of beneficiaries of Roy’s guidance, friendship, counseling, support, and great good humor. None of the work in digital humanities that I have done since arriving here would have been possible without all of those things I received from Roy. He had so many good ideas, so many helpful suggestions, such an incredible work ethic, that everyone who was anywhere nearby got better just by being in his general vicinity.
During my first semester here, our then department chair, now dean Jack Censer told me once, “Don’t stand too close to Roy.” When I asked why, he said, “Because you’ll get pulled along in his wake and no one but Roy is capable of doing all the things he does in any given day.” Jack, who has known Roy since forever, was absolutely right. No one but Roy is capable of doing all that he did.
Al Gore may not have invented the Internet, but I think it is no exaggeration to claim that Roy invented Digital History as a field of serious scholarly endeavor. Before Roy got involved I’m sure there were others who were playing around with what digital media might mean to our professional practice. But it was Roy who made Digital History into a professional field. For that alone, the profession and many subsequent generations of history students will be forever indebted to this great man.
For myself, I will be inspired by his example for the rest of my life. I know that as long as I’m fortunate enough to be on this earth I will try to live up to the standard that Roy set. And I know that I’ll always fall short.
Roy, I’ll miss you more than I can ever express.
Mack P. Holt, Department of History & Art History, George Mason University
It has been a very sad week for us in the History Department at George Mason. Roy’s death has left a hole in our hearts as well as in our intellects. So many wonderful things could be said about him, and many of them already have been said by others. So, in this time of grieving, I want to reminiscence on a happier time, indeed one of the happiest times I ever experienced with Roy. It was on Saturday night, February 20, 1999. The setting was a colleague’s home, where most of the department and their spouses had gathered to honor Roy, accompanied by lots of food and drink. The occasion was his appointment as a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Scholar, the closest thing the college had to an endowed chair at the time, and the highest honor the college could give him. As I was also on the review committee appointed by the dean to advise on this appointment, I recall with pleasure one of the dozen or so outside letters by the some of the most distinguished historians in the country whom the dean solicited for their evaluations of Roy’s scholarly accomplishments. One of them began her letter with a striking statement: “Roy is a national treasure!” I had never thought of Roy in this way (Roy as Grand Canyon? Roy as Julia Child?), but it certainly rang true then, as it still does. But on the night of February 20, 1999 we were gathered in a spirit of fun, pleasure, and boundless admiration for a colleague whom everyone adored. One of our former chairs, Marion Deshmukh, had started the tradition that on such occasions we should endeavor to create some doggerel, scribbled verse, or other creative party piece to honor the occasion. So on that night, I read aloud a limerick I had jotted down earlier in the day. It seemed fitting for the occasion and made me very proud and privileged to call Roy my friend and colleague. Upon re-reading it this week as I have been reflecting on Roy, it still seems fitting and says (in its own abominable way) what I still feel about him, indeed what we all feel.
A ROYAL LIMERICK
There was once a historian named Roy
Who was very perceptively coy.
He wondered why history
Was always a mystery
In all that he heard as a boy.
So he decided to make history a vocation,
And studied the American nation.
Though much to his surprise
He discovered all the lies
That had been spread since the beginning of creation.
From Columbia to Harvard he ascended,
Where he his dissertation defended.
He looked at workers' leisure
And all they did for pleasure
Eight hours every day, so he contended.
But he also met a lady from Brandeis
Whose hold over him began to aggrandize.
So he decided to woo her
And eventually pursue her,
Which made quite a match woman and man-wise.
So he set out in earnest to give chase,
But his beloved was setting the pace.
He found that too often
She was thinking of Jane Austin,
So he rarely made it to first base.
But wedlock and marriage are the ultimate blessing
Despite all the statistics so distressing.
To Washington and George Mason
They both soon did hasten,
Where they began a new life of professing.
Then Roy took off into Central Park
Which became his next major lark.
From the Tavern on the Green
To the eastern ravine,
He recorded it all, even muggers in the dark.
Then he launched the Center for History and New Media,
Which would transform poor old Clio he decreed. He, uh,
Made a CD-ROM that offended,
So the Wall Street Journal contended,
Because of gay cowboys and other such tedia.
But any distress Roy easily disguises
Because his CD-ROM won so many prizes.
And his history of the net
Will be his best work yet,
Or so one of his grad students surmises.
But what one notices of Roy is how hard he works.
There's nothing or no one that he shirks.
The late hours he keeps
And rumors he occasionally sleeps
Are part of his charming quirks.
But Roy is a friend always unfailing and just,
A constant someone we can always trust.
Even as CAS Distinguished Scholar
He's never too big for his collar,
Which makes Roy a King among us.
So tonight we have all gathered to attest
That Roy stands out from all the rest.
And though a trite cliché,
It's true anyway:
We salute you Roy; you're the best.
[February 20, 1999]
And you are the best, Roy. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Rosenzweig's Reflections on his Career
American history traditionally has been written and presented from the perspective of the 'victors' --the rich and powerful. My historical work--writing, editing, filmmaking, collecting oral history--contributes to more recent efforts to rewrite U.S. history to incorporate the lives and perspectives of ordinary men and women and to present that vision of our past to the largest possible audience.
In the past several years, I have devoted substantial attention to using new media and new technology to present and teach about the past. That has led to my work in developing two multimedia CD-ROMs in U.S. history, a CD-ROM on the French Revolution, and an Internet web site for teachers of the U.S. History Survey Course called 'History Matters.' The web site for my Center for History and New Media (http://chnm.gmu.edu) provides an introduction to that work. The continuity with my earlier work is my interest in using new media to democratize the study of the past--both by incorporating forgotten voices and by presenting the fullest possible story of the past to diverse audiences.
By Roy Rosenzweig
Most subsequent writers have drawn their information (often embellishing along the way) from a single paragraph written by the park's first engineer, Egbert Viele, who from the distance of forty years recalled the park as"the refuge of about five thousand squatters, dwelling in rude huts of their own construction, and living off the refuse of the city.""These people who had thus overrun and occupied the territory were principally of foreign birth, with but very little knowledge of the English language, and occupied the territory were principally of foreign birth, with but very little knowledge of the English language, and with very little respect for the law. Like the ancient Gauls, they wanted land to live on, and they took it."
The"pre-parkites," as one commentator called them, left no firsthand accounts to counter these scornful reports, but it is possible to piece together an alternative portrait of the roughly sixteen hundred residents from manuscript censuses, city directories, tax lists, land records, church registers, and the maps and petitions generated by the acquisition of the park land. More than 90 percent of those who lived on that land were immigrants-mostly Irish or German-or African Americans, compared to about half of the overall population of the city and also uptown Manhatten. More than two-thirds of the adults worked at unskilled and service jobs-as laborers, gardeners, domestics, and the like-and most of the rest as tailors, carpenters, masons, or in other skilled trades. About one in ten ran a small business-a grocery or a butcher shop, for example. These aggregate figures challenge the existing portraits of the"pre-parkites" as criminals and vagabonds. -- Roy Rosenszweig (with Elizabeth Blackmar) in"The Park and the People: A History of Central Park"
More than a century ago, Justin Winsor, the third president of the AHA, concluded his Presidential Address- focused on a topic that would be considered odd today, that of preserving manuscript sources for the study of history-with a plea to the AHA"to convince the National Legislature" to support a scheme"before it is too late" to preserve and make known"what there is still left to us of the historical manuscripts of the country." For founders of the historical profession such as Winsor, the need to engage with history broadly defined-not just how it was researched but also how it was taught in the schools or preserved in archives-came naturally; it was part of creating a historical profession. In the early twenty-first century, we are likely to be faced with recreating the historical profession, and we will be well served by such a broad vision of our mission. If the past is to have an abundant future, if the story of Bert Is Evil and hundreds of other stories are to be fully told, then historians need to act in the present. -- Roy Rosenzweig in"Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era"
Historical scholarship is also characterized by possessive individualism. Good professional practice (and avoiding charges of plagiarism) requires us to attribute ideas and words to specific historians--we are taught to speak of"Richard Hofstadter's status anxiety interpretation of Progressivism." And if we use more than a limited number of words from Hofstadter, we need to send a check to his estate. To mingle Hofstadter's prose with your own and publish it would violate both copyright and professional norms.
A historical work without owners and with multiple, anonymous authors is thus almost unimaginable in our professional culture. Yet, quite remarkably, that describes the online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia, which contains 3 million articles (1 million of them in English). History is probably the category encompassing the largest number of articles. Wikipedia is entirely free. And that freedom includes not just the ability of anyone to read it (a freedom denied by the scholarly journals in, say, jstor, which requires an expensive institutional subscription) but also--more remarkably--their freedom to use it. You can take Wikipedia's entry on Franklin D. Roosevelt and put it on your own Web site, you can hand out copies to your students, and you can publish it in a book--all with only one restriction: You may not impose any more restrictions on subsequent readers and users than have been imposed on you. And it has no authors in any conventional sense. Tens of thousands of people--who have not gotten even the glory of affixing their names to it--have written it collaboratively. The Roosevelt entry, for example, emerged over four years as five hundred authors made about one thousand edits. This extraordinary freedom and cooperation make Wikipedia the most important application of the principles of the free and open-source software movement to the world of cultural, rather than software, production. -- Roy Rosenzweig in"Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past," The Journal of American History Volume 93, Number 1 (June, 2006): 117-46
A profound reconsideration of what counts as historical thinking, The Presence of the Past exposes some misconceptions at the heart of the so-called history wars. Historical professionals like Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn who argue (in History on Trial) that academic standards must reflect the rich ethnic mixture of the nation miss the fact that most students are alienated from the classrooms that have made them regurgitate volumes of facts. Cultural conservatives like Lynne Cheney and William Bennett, who insist on a triumphant version of the national past, fail to recognize that most Americans do not see their lives as connected to purported heroes like George Washington. A wonderful and refreshing book, The Presence of the Past points toward a democratization of historical consciousness by tenderly exploring how ordinary people remember. -- James Highfill, Amazon.com reviewing"The Presence of the Past"
Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of History & New Media; College of
Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History; Director of
Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, 1981 to
present (Asst. Prof., 1981-85; Assoc. Prof., 1985-92; Prof.
Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan Univ., 1980 to 1981;
Assistant Professor of History and Humanities, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 1978 to 1980.
Area of Research:
20th-century US, digital history
Ph.D., History, Harvard Univ., 1978
Research student in history on Kellet Fellowship, St. John's College of Cambridge Univ. (England), 1971-73
B.A., magna cum laude, Columbia College, N.Y., 1971.
Coeditor of the series"Critical Perspectives on the Past," Temple University Press, 1985--. Editor of"Newsnotes," a feature inLabor History, 1979-87. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including International Journal of Oral History,Monthly Labor Review,Film Library Quarterly,Journal of American History, History Microcomputer Review,Nation, and New York Times Book Review. American Quarterly, member of editorial board, 1987-90, guest editor, 1998-99; member of editorial board, Radical History Review, 1977--, History Computer Review, 1996--, and Journal of Multimedia History, 1997--; coeditor, Federal One, 1981-90. Some of Rosenzweig's work has been translated into Italian and German.
James Harvey Robinson Prize of American Historical Association for"outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history" for
History Matters, Jan. 2005;
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Award for Excellence in the Humanities, December 2004;
Forrest G. Pogue Award for Excellence in Oral History, March 2004;
Richard W. Lyman Award (presented by the National Humanities Center and the Rockefeller Foundation) for"outstanding achievement in the use of information technology to advance scholarship and teaching in the humanities," 2003. Vice-President, Research Div., American Historical Association, 2003-5;
State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, 1999;
"Edsitement" selection by NEH for"History Matters" Web site;
Historic Preservation Book Prize for Best Book of 1998 from Center for Historic Preservation, Mary Washington College and Award of Merit from American Association for State and Local History for The Presence of the Past;
James Harvey Robinson Prize of American Historical Association for"outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history" and finalist, Interactive Media Festival Award for Who Built America? CD-ROM;
Urban History Association Prize for Best Book in North American Urban History; Abel Wolman Prize for Best Book in Public Works History; Abbott Cumming Lowell Prize for Best Book of 1992 from Vernacular Architecture Forum; Historic Preservation Book Prize for Best Book of 1992 from Center for Historic Preservation; New York Historical Association Award for Best Manuscript on New York History, 1991 (for The Park and the People.)
Fulbright Commission, Senior Scholar, Australia, June-July, 1990;
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1989-90;
Forrest G. Pogue Award for Excellence in Oral History, November, 1987;
Albert J. Beveridge Research Grant from the AHA, 1987;
NEH Research Grant for"Central Park: A Social History," 1986 to 1988;
Distinguished Faculty Award, GMU, 1986;
American Association for State and Local History Research Grant, 1985;
NEH Fellowship for College Teachers, 1984 to 1985;
Research Grant from NEH for Oral History of Government-Sponsored Arts Projects, 1983 to 1985;
Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Center for the Humanities, Wesleyan Univ., 1980 to 1981.
Rosenzweig was also member of board of directors,Cine Research Associates, 1978-88, coproducer of the historical documentary film Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston, 1979; National Endowment for the Humanities, associate producer of Changing American City film series, 1981-83. Danforth Foundation, organizer and administrator of"Experiments in History Teaching Program," 1976-77; American Social History Productions, member of board of directors, 1984--; Committee on History making in America, cofounder and member of steering committee, 1989-97; co-organizer and executive producer of the Internet course"History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web;" coexecutive producer of the interactive CD-ROM and Internet web site"Images of the French Revolution." Guest lecturer at universities in the United States and abroad, including University of Tokyo, University of Virginia, Yale University, University of Melbourne, and Emory University; consultant to museums, government agencies, and community projects. George Mason University Press, member of editorial board, 1985-90.
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