Theodore Hamerow, RIP

Stanley G. Payne

Theodore S. Hamerow, G.P. Gooch Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founding president of the Wisconsin Association of Scholars, died at his home in Madison on February 16, 2013.  He was born in Warsaw, the son of actors in Europe’s celebrated Yiddish Vilna Troupe, and moved to New York with his family in 1930.

He was educated at the City College of New York, and then served in the U.S. Army from 1943-1946, first as an infantryman and then as a translator in the military police.  He completed his Ph.D at Yale in 1951, taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign from 1952-1958, and then joined the History Department at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, where he served until his retirement in 1991.  He directed one of the largest doctoral programs in German history in the United States, and acquired a reputation as a compelling undergraduate lecturer.

Ted Hamerow achieved distinction as a specialist in the era of German unification, pioneering in the study of social and economic factors in historical change.  His first book, Restoration, Revolution, Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany, 1815-1871 (1958) was followed by the two-volume Social Foundations of German Unification, 1858-1871 (1969, 1972).  His intellectual interests, however, extended far beyond Imperial Germany.  Reflections on History and Historians (1987) analyzed the structure and problems of the historical profession and the declining place of history in culture and education, and advanced several proposals for reform.  Ted remained active in research and writing until nearly the end of his ninth decade, and at age 88 brought out Why We Watched: Europe, America and the Holocaust (2008), a new examination, based extensively on primary research, of the policies and attitudes of Allied governments and institutions toward the Holocaust while it was occurring.  Altogether, he published ten books totaling eleven volumes, a co-authored  textbook, four edited or co-edited books and many scholarly articles.

Ted was active in leadership and public service, among other things as chair of the Modern European History Association of the AHA in 1978, and later as a member of the National Council of the Endowment for the Humanities from 1992-2000.  He was the founding president of the Wisconsin Association of Scholars, and also one of the founders of the Historical Society, which makes an annual award in his name for the best dissertation in European history.

Ted Hamerow well knew how fortunate he was to live in the United States, which gave him an opportunity to thrive as a scholar and teacher, and he worked diligently to assure this opportunity for others.  He was a firm and passionate believer in free speech and in the importance of fair and objective scholarly standards, holding that historians had the responsibility to carry out new research and speak the truth as they saw it, without regard for current fads or political trends.  He was preeminent in his moral courage and willingness to speak forthrightly on behalf of his principles, if need be as part of a small minority, and always maintained his dedication to the values for which he had fought in World War II.

Ted Hamerow was eloquent in speech, courtly in manner, and passionate in beliefs well-defended.  He is survived by his wife Diane, two daughters, two stepsons, two grandchildren and five step-grandchildren.

Stanley G. Payne is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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