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In Memoriam: Norman Birnbaum

L-R: James Galbraith, Don Carleton and Norman Birnman

The Briscoe Center mourns the passing of professor Norman Birnbaum, a renowned intellectual who died at the beginning of the month at the age of 92. Birnbaum had been active in politics, academia, and journalism on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean since the 1950s.

"Five years ago, Professor Birnbaum visited the center to donate his papers. He was kindhearted, erudite, sharp and eloquent, just like his vast body of work that spanned the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11," said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center.

Norman Birnbaum was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1926. He graduated with a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1958 and went on to teach at the London School of Economics, the University of Strasbourg, Amherst College, and Georgetown University. He is credited with introducing sociology to the undergraduate curriculum at Oxford during the 1960s.

A prolific author and essayist, his books included the critically acclaimed Crisis of Industrial Society (1969) and After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism in the Twentieth Century (2001). A founding editor of New Left Review in 1960, Birnbaum went on to become one of the longest-serving members of The Nation's editorial board. Birnbaum was also active in politics, serving as an advisor to Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1980 and as a consultant to the National Security Council. In addition, he worked as a consultant for several European political parties and unions.

In 2013, Birnbaum donated his papers to the Briscoe Center. This sizable collection includes Birnbaum's correspondence with academics, journalists, and other intellectuals; documents relating to his political activism; conference materials and presentations; lecture notes and teaching materials; draft copies and research notes from editorials, books, and other published works; as well as unpublished materials and restricted items. The papers join those of other significant American scholars, including Walter Prescott Webb, Lewis Gould, Clarence Ayres, Lewis Filler, and C. Wright Mills.

"I chose the Briscoe Center because of the quality and depth of the collection. Having my papers there makes me feel part of a wider and broader sort of American history," said Birnbaum at the time. "I trust that future scholars will use the documents of my own trajectory to imagine the range of experiences open to American scholars and thinkers in the past century and the beginning of this one."