John Morton Blum died yesterday.
Like most of the great Yale historians of the latter 20th century, he was known to students mostly by his last name: Blum. Morgan. Spence. Kagan. They weren’t just masterful scholars; they were masterful storytellers, and masterful teachers.
Thirty years after I sat through a semester of lectures on the Progressive Era, and one of the longest final exams that I ever wrote, I still have detailed and lasting memories of John Blum: his Theodore Roosevelt imitation, his holding forth at lunch with students, a healthy dose of pomp during one-to-one chats in his office, and above all the wisdom imparted during a brief vivid encounter with the man, his bow tie, and his pipe as I exited SSS 114 after writing that exam and headed into a snowy, dreary New Haven. I thanked the man for the course, and I shared the wish that I could remain an undergraduate for more than the standard four years, so that I could take all of the provocative courses in what was then the Blue Book – the Yale course catalog. No, you don’t want to stay, Blum replied; four years is plenty of time to devote to college. After that, you should go exploring.
John Blum — anticipating Calvin & Hobbes. He was a great teacher.
One of my Yale classmates, who writes occasionally for the alumni magazine, recalls Blum here.