Symposium Honors Kornblith, Showcases Obie Historians

Elizabeth Dobbins

A symposium titled “Doing American History” will be held in Craig Lecture Hall tomorrow, Feb. 25, to honor Professor of History Gary Kornblith’s retirement after 30 years of teaching at Oberlin. Instead of using the symposium to showcase scholarly papers, 12 of Kornblith’s former students are coming back to give speeches on becoming American historians and the future of the field of American history.

“My idea here is to have some fun, not just serious academic stuff,” said Kornblith.

Many of the speeches will draw on the speakers’ autobiographical experiences pursuing careers in history. Kornblith says that this will provide ideas for students as to what to do with their history major after graduation. The majority of the speakers are professors, though their achievements range from clerking for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, to writing an article on Native Americans in the American Historical Review, to having books published by Harvard or Knopf.

Adina Langer, OC ’06, and speaker at the symposium, currently works at the National September 11 Memorial Museum and hopes to share in her speech what she has learned about “the process of ‘collecting’ history in the field,” which has provided her with “insights into the relationship between the preservation of artifacts, images and oral histories, and the preservation of their context.”

Langer, along with five other speakers, will be participating in the latter half of the symposium titled “Where We Are Going,” which concentrates on the future of studying American history. Starting at 2 p.m. each speaker will talk for around 10 minutes followed by a Q&A session at 3 p.m. The first half of the symposium, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, will follow the same format but will include different speakers and a focus on “How We Got to Where We Are.”

The speakers, however, haven’t come to Oberlin solely to express their ideas on practicing American history; they are also here to celebrate Kornblith’s career and retirement. Tom Buchanan, OC ’89, and professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said that Kornblith and his wife Carol Lasser, professor of History and director of the Oberlin College Enrollment Alliance Network, had an enormous impact on him during his time here and changed the course of his life.

“Gary’s passion for American history inspired me to pursue history as a career,” said Buchanan. “I have never yet met a finer mentor. He will be a great loss for Oberlin.”

Langer agrees on the important role Kornblith played during her time as a student here. “Having Professor Kornblith as my honors advisor during my senior year at Oberlin was a formative experience for me. He encouraged me to dig deeply and broadly into my topic (sacred, public and private property in American national parks) and helped me to hone my craft as a writer of history. He challenged me and made me feel welcome as a budding scholar.”

Kornblith is happy with the experience he has had teaching at Oberlin. He assures the community that his wife, Lasser, will continue to teach and he plans to spend his retirement collaborating with her on a history of race in Oberlin and participating in the Strategic Priorities Relating to Information Technology Expenditures committee, a board in charge of technology expenditure.

“I’ve really loved teaching at Oberlin,” said Kornblith. “I think I’m retiring at the top of my game.”