Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Claire Hirshfield -- Penn State

I took two courses with Claire Hirshfield, Ph.D. at Penn State, where I earned my B.A. in 1975. Dr. Hirshfield taught History 171, the history of modern Southeast Asia and History 19, European history from the French Revolution to the present.

Dr. Hirshfield was the finest teacher I have ever had at any time in my life. She was an outstanding pedagogue and an inspired lecturer. She was absolutely devoted to the craft of teaching and to her field of study. Her lectures had an unparalleled narrative drive, rhythm, and cohesiveness. Listening to Dr. Hirshfield in front of a class was, I imagine, like listening to Victor Hugo retelling the story of Les Miserables.

The only faculty member known to have received both the Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching and the AMOCO Foundation teaching award in the same year (1979), Dr. Hirshfield has also been one of the campus' most prolific researchers.

Dr. Hirshfield received a bachelor's degre, magna cum laude, from Bryn Mawr Colege, and went on to earn three graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. She also was recipient of two Fulbright-Hays grants for study in Paris and Tokyo.

Notable among Dr. Hirshfield's published work is "The Diplomacy of Partition: Britain, France, and the Creation of Nigeria 1890-1898."

Aside: I used to work at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson in Washington, DC where former Senator William Fulbright practiced law. On one ocasion I happened to be in the firm cafeteria, Chez Hogan, when Fulbright entered the vending machine area. He dropped some change in a machine but didn't get the item he wanted. He got angry and said: "That son of a bitch machine stole my money!" I wonder how Bob Strauss would have reacted in a similar circumstance. On another occasion when I was 32 years old, Fulbright entered the room where the firm kept its telephone directories. I was seated in front of the directory he wanted. He said: "Son, would you hand me that telephone directory?" I thought: "Son? Did he just call me son?" And those are my recollections of Senator J. William Fulbright.