Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898


Ivy League Insider

November-December 2004

Published just as this article was going to press, American historian John Morton Blum's A Life with History tells how a devoted Harvard graduate ('43, Ph.D. '50, LL.D. '80) found professional happiness at Yale without renouncing his affection for his alma mater. The Second World War opened doors for members of his generation. When he returned to Cambridge after three years in the navy, an older Harvard historian's advice that "Hebrews can't make it in history" made him, in a spirit of defiance, choose graduate study over law school. A teaching post at MIT allowed him and his wife to settle in Cambridge and forge friendships with many Harvard faculty members, but it was Yale that offered him a professorship in 1957. By 1959, he had, as one Yale colleague put it, "cross[ed] the Rubicon": he found himself shouting "God damn it!" when Harvard recovered an Eli football fumble.

John Morton Blum
Portrait courtesy of the Harvard University Archives

Although he remained at Yale until his retirement in 1991, Blum retained close ties with Harvard. In December 1969, he was named a Fellow of Harvard College and thus participated in the eventual selection of Derek Bok as successor to Harvard president Nathan Pusey, who was preparing to resign in the wake of the student strike earlier that year. According to Blum, Yale president Kingman Brewster, LL.B. '48, LL.D. '64, whom Blum had known since the days when both were in Cambridge, persuaded him to accept the appointment, telling him, "When Harvard sneezes, we all catch cold. Joining the Harvard Corporation is the most important thing you can do for Yale."

The Historian-Autobiographers

See also:

H. Stuart Hughes

Arthur Meier Schlesinger Sr.

Harvard Historian's Memoirs

Like many Harvard historian-autobiographers, Blum was active in liberal politics, urging compromise with 1960s student protesters and campaigning for Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Blum chooses not to say how he, a historian of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and the New Deal era, judges the age of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, but readers can probably guess which of his two former students, George W. Bush and John Kerry, he would prefer to see in the White House.