Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, 1932-2012

Randall Stephens

Like so many others, I was sad to hear that Bert Wyatt-Brown passed away over the weekend in Baltimore.  His wife Anne relayed the news on Sunday. 

Bert is best known as an accomplished writer, historian, mentor, and leader of the historical profession.

Bert on the Maine coast, 2006
He served as President of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (1994), St. George Tucker Society (1998-99), and Southern Historical Association (2000-2001).  He was a longtime supporter of the Historical Society and regularly wrote for Historically Speaking.  (See my interview with him here on this blog.)

He was the author over 100 scholarly articles and essays and wrote a variety of acclaimed books.  His Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  Novelist Walker Percy called the book "A remarkable achievement--a re-creation of the living reality of the antebellum South from thousands of bits and pieces of the dead past."  "Unlike so many historians who have been interested in handing down judgments, favorable or unfavorable, on the Old South," wrote Harvard historian David Herbert Donald, "Wyatt-Brown has studied Southerners much as an anthropologist would an aboriginal tribe. An important, original book which challenges so many widely held beliefs about the Old South."

True to form, Bert just completed his last book not long before his passing.  I saw him and Anne in September and he was thrilled to have completed the project.  We were emailing back and forth last week about the images to accompany the text.  Titled A Warring Nation: Honor, Race, and Humiliation at Home and Abroad, it will soon be rolled out by the University of Virginia Press.

Maybe most importantly, Bert taught and mentored numerous students at the University of Florida, Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Wisconsin, and Case Western Reserve University.

As one of his many grad students, I can attest to his generous, wonderful spirit.  With funds from the Milbauer chair he filled at the University of Florida, Bert would help students attend conferences like the Southern Historical Association, the Saint George Tucker Society, the American Historical Association, and others.  He provided research money to students as well.  Many a dissertation was sped along by his help and keen interest.  Bert was a great prose stylist, more than happy to help his charges eliminate passive voice, dangling particles, unidentified antecedents, you name it.  He was tireless in his big-picture, content edits to dissertations, conference, papers, and articles.  (I can't imagine that my first book would have ever seen the light of day without his heroic reading of so many of my bad drafts.) Even after Bert retired he continued to meet with new graduate students at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere.

Those who studied with him, knew him as a colleague, or friend will deeply miss his sense of humor, his joy for living, dinners and visits with him and Anne, and so much more.

He is survived by his wife Anne, a daughter, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren.


Caleb McDaniel said...

As one of the grad students at Hopkins whom Bert took under his wing after retiring to Baltimore, I'm also saddened to learn of his passing. He was one of the most generous people I've ever met, with a love for life and history that was infectious. Bert will be sorely missed.

Randall said...

CM: That's great to hear! Such a tribute to Bert.

Randall said...

A timely review of the Wyatt-Brown festschrift, edited by Kilbride and Frank:


hcr said...

Bert was a great man. He was one of the kindest, friendliest, as well as one of the brightest men I knew. It was always a joy to see him. And yes, he had a great sense of humor. He also had great stories: didn't he tell one about taking a day off from the SHA and going swimming with C. Vann Woodward and some other really famous southern historian? And, of course, he was the person who introduced Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Can't imagine conferences without him.

He will be sorely missed.

Randall said...

He spent one summer day, back in grad school at JHU, out swimming with Willie Lee Rose, David Hackett Fischer, and Vann Woodward. What a group.

It's really something about Plath, Hughes, and Bert. He has one or two essays about those years. And I remember being a little stunned when I read about "Bert" in Plath's journals: http://books.google.no/books?hl=no&id=JMGwAAAAIAAJ&q=bert#search_anchor

Donna Schuele said...

I am a historian in large part due to Prof. Wyatt-Brown and his amazing course in post-Civil War Southern history when I was an undergrad at CWRU. I am so glad I had a chance to catch up with him at the OAH in Seattle a few years ago.

David Moltke-Hansen said...

Typical of Bert, at the Southern Historical Association meeting last year, he arranged, at her request, to meet a Finnish graduate student to discuss her project. His enthusiasm was at once confirmation and inspiration.

Randall said...

The Baltimore Sun obit:


Randall said...

And the NYT:


Randall said...

LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-bertram-wyatt-brown-20121119,0,1022267.story

Boston Globe:




Gainesville Sun: