Thomas Haskell, 1939-2017

BY HANK REICHMAN

Thomas Haskell

Thomas Haskell, Samuel G. McCann Professor Emeritus of History at Rice University, passed away on July 12 at the age of 78.  Professor Haskell was a member of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure from 1993 to 1996.  Among his many publications, he is perhaps best known for two books: The Emergence of Professional Social Science: The American Social Science Association and the Nineteenth Century Crisis of Authority and Objectivity is not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History.  The latter title included and expanded upon Professor Haskell’s important 1990 History and Theory essay of that name, published in response to Peter Novick’s influential book That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession.  Its defense of engaged but “objective” scholarship echoed notions voiced in the early 20th century by some of the AAUP’s founders, most notably John Dewey.  Haskell’s insightful essay, “Justifying the Rights of Academic Freedom in the age of ‘Power/Knowledge’,” appeared in the 1996 AAUP-sponsored book, The Future of Academic Freedom, edited by Louis Menand.  

The Rice University Department of History has posted a full obituary and tribute on the university’s website, emphasizing how Professor Haskell “did the hard, everyday work of promoting the pursuit of truth, of defending the mission of the university, and not least of defending academic freedom.”  The department also reports that Professor Haskell named three charitable beneficiaries in his will, one of which is the AAUP.  The family has also graciously requested that donations be made in honor of Professor Haskell to those three groups, including the AAUP.   Donations to the AAUP Foundation may be made here.  To learn how to leave a charitable bequest to the Foundation go here.

I never had the privilege of knowing Thomas Haskell personally, although I was much influenced by some of his work, especially by “Objectivity is Not Neutrality,” which I assigned regularly in seminars on historiography.  Nonetheless I am saddened by the loss of a fine historian and vigorous faculty leader.  On behalf of the AAUP and the members of Committee A, our condolences go to Professor Haskell’s wife Dorothy, his children Alexander Haskell and Susan Khan and their spouses, and six grandchildren.

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