Ben Alpers has e-mailed to let us all know that historian Alan Dawley has died. I didn’t know Dawley well enough to write anything like an appropriate tribute to his life or work. So, I’ll simply note that he was, for me, the very model of the scholar-activist, a kind of moral compass for the profession.
Beyond that, it should be said that Dawley’s written work was outstanding. If you haven’t read Class and Community, and you have any interest at all in social history, get the book today. It’s a vivid depiction of a fascinating place, Lynn, Massachusetts, at a critical time, the early nineteenth century, as the industrial revolution remakes New England’s landscape, politics, economy, and culture. Then there’s this: scholarship was only one part of Dawley’s life. He also devoted himself to pursuing social justice, including the rights of working people. And, recently, he was among the most dedicated organizers of Historians against the War.
Dawley was, in sum, a great historian and, it seems, an even better person. In his e-mail, Ben says of Dawley: “His particular genius was bringing disparate personalities and points of view together by identifying and articulating real common ground. He’ll be sorely missed.” Again, I didn’t know him well enough to speak to the former point. As for the latter, I knew him just well enough to miss him already. To his friends and family, please accept our very deepest sympathies.