October 18th, 2011 | University

Storied professor dies

John Morton Blum, an eminent Yale historian who taught the likes of former President George W. Bush ’68, U.S. Sen. John Kerry ‘66 and former Yale professor Henry Louis Gates ’73, has passed away in North Branford, CT. He was 90.

Blum, a Harvard man, joined Yale’s History Department in 1957. A former chair of the department, Blum was regarded by many as one of the most distinguished and esteemed historians and craftsman in political history.

“John was a great citizen of Yale, a pioneer in helping us understand the meaning of equality in America, and he embodied what it means to be a historian engaged in the public world,” professor David Blight wrote in an email Monday.

Blum, who published numerous books in the past four decades that covered a wide variety of topics, including the Wilson Era, Progressive Presidents, discord in American politics and society, retired in 1991. Despite his retirement, Blum continued to publish, give interviews and appear in historical documentaries well into his 80s. His teaching left an impression on Bush, as the former president mentioned Blum in a 2001 Class Day speech:

As a student, I tried to keep a low profile. It worked. Last year the New York Times interviewed John Morton Blum because the record showed I had taken one of his courses. Casting his mind’s eye over the parade of young faces down through the years, Professor Blum said, and I quote, “I don’t have the foggiest recollection of him.” [Laughter]

But I remember Professor Blum. And I still recall his dedication and high standards of learning. In my time there were many great professors at Yale, and there still are

Blum is survived by his wife of 65 years, Pamela, and their three children. A memorial service will be held in November, Blight wrote.

  • John_Endean

    I was a T.A. for John Blum – and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    I can still see him walking up on stage and putting the outline of his lecture on the chalk board. And I remember that he refused to speak while someone in the audience was reading a newspaper. I wonder what he’d make of smart phones.

    His final lecture on FDR never failed to move the students because, after all, FDR died at an early age. Blum would always say, don’t feel bad. He packed more in his life than most people ever do. There’s nothing to mourn.

    This is how I feel about Blum’s death. But I will say that he was the most misunderstood fellow on the Yale faculty. Young radicals looked at the tweeds, the bow tie, and the pipe and assumed what of course they would assume. Yet if you listened to what he had to say, he was far from the predictable Ivy League blowhard and I think that because of who he seemed to be, his ideas had a force that they might not otherwise have had. But you had to listen.

    I am also sorry that the obits will discuss his better known works but if you really want to understand his contribution, it seems to me that you have to go back to the 3 Morgenthau books which, in my view, rank with Ellis Hawley’s absolutely amazing The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly as standouts of New Deal historiography.

    He was a memorable and vivid character.

  • Lcolley

    I first met John Blum when I was a candidate for an Assistant Professor at Yale’s History Department in 1981. We were colleagues at Yale for 16 years, and have always been friends. He was a great historian and a thoroughly tonic and decent spirit. And the wit was a joy, as were John’s informed and incisive critiques of the US,to which he was unfailingly devoted.
    A remarkable man.
    Linda Colley

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