December 2, 2013

Faculty Praise, Remember Esteemed Cornell Historian Michael Kammen

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Prof. Emeritus Michael Kammen, history, who peers describe as one of the eminent historians of America, died Friday at the age of 77.

Kammen, who taught at Cornell for 43 years and then came out of retirement this fall to teach a honors thesis class, was the author of several books about American colonial history, as well as an active member of the community of historical scholars.

His friends, family and colleagues remembered him as a dedicated teacher who lent a hand to anyone in need.

Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, said Kammen was beloved by his colleagues.

“He was a gentle, unassuming man who never tooted his own horn and who always helped students and colleagues find just the right article or book to help in their work,” Kramnick said. “He spent his whole career here, and he will be sorely missed.”

Former University President Hunter S. Rawlings III said in an email that he was “fortunate” to know Kammen.

“Michael Kammen was one of my closest friends on the Cornell faculty, a colleague I greatly admired and respected, an inspiring scholar and teacher [and] a model of what a professor should be,” Rawlings said. “He was completely dedicated to his department, to his profession and to Cornell, an all-too-rare combination.”

Members of Kammen’s family also noted the late scholar’s commitment to helping others.

“My dad was a remarkably dedicated mentor to students and to me and my brother… it is a gift I loved in him,” said his son Prof. Dan Kammen, energy, University of California at Berkeley.

Kammen, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., received his B.A. at George Washington University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1965 and worked at the University until he retired in 2008, according to his Cornell faculty page.

Apart from being the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture, Kammen wrote numerous books about how events in America’s colonial history continue to affect the culture of the United States today.

His book, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, which discussed the historical origins of modern ideological contradictions in America, earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

Kammen was also an active member of the community of historical scholars. From 1995 to 1996, Kammen was president of the Organization of American Historians. He also received the American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction — which honors senior historians in the U.S. — in 2009.

Kammen is survived by his wife and two children.