Bernard Bailyn Remembrance by Patricia L. Denault

Bernard Bailyn, Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of American History, emeritus, 1922-2020
Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, 1983-1994
Bernard Bailyn died on August 7, a month before his 98th birthday. He was internationally recognized as one of the premier historians of colonial America, but here we want to remember him as one of the founders of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History and one of its most enthusiastic supporters. With boundless energy and wide-ranging intellectual interests, he kept the Center at the heart of his scholarly endeavors throughout his career.
As one of the original members of the Warren Center’s Administrative Committee, Professor Bailyn played a central role in planning the scope of the Center’s activities at its inception. Like his colleagues, he wanted the Warren bequest to take a concrete and enduring form that would have a real impact on the study of American history; the establishment of the Center’s fellowship program was central to this goal.  An active research scholar and writer well into his nineties (his last book, Illuminating History, was published in April 2020), Professor Bailyn was well aware of the importance of paid research time, especially at the junior level. He also saw great value in bringing historians of American history from abroad to Harvard; he encouraged the passage of a steady stream of foreign historians of American history through the Center in its early years—from Germany, Australia, Japan, India, Norway, France, and Italy.
Professor Bailyn served as director of the Warren Center for over a decade (1983-1994); his tenure included a period when the financial needs of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences seemed likely to subsume the Center’s funding. Professor Bailyn structured an agreement with then-FAS dean Henry Rosovsky that reserved a percentage of the Warren fund income to the Center and thus secured its continuing operation.
But beyond his official leadership, Professor Bailyn was the driving force for many of the Warren Center’s scholarly activities beyond the fellowship program; throughout his career, he supported projects that advanced new viewpoints and deepened understanding of America’s past, projects that he tied closely to the Charles Warren Center:
  • He was a founding editor (with Donald Fleming) of Perspectives in American History (1967-79; 1984-86), a unique journal dedicated to longer-form essays that were too short to be published as monographs, but too long to find a place in other scholarly journals.
  • He oversaw the publication of Province in Rebellion: A Documentary History of the Founding of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1774-75 (1975). This voluminous documentary history of the Commonwealth’s debates over Independence during three provincial congresses, published in microfiche, was funded by the Massachusetts Revolutionary War Bicentennial Commission and housed in the Warren Center.
  • He located his own major research project (funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund), “The Peopling of British North America,” in the Warren Center.  For over two decades, the Center provided office space and other infrastructure support for the “Peopling” project.
  • When he received a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for his Atlantic history project—the International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World (1995-2010)—Professor Bailyn housed its operations in the Charles Warren Center. He linked the two intellectually in 1997-98, when “The Early Modern Atlantic World” became the theme for selecting the Center’s annual research fellows.
With these projects housed on Center premises, Professor Bailyn was a regular presence at the Warren Center in each of its locations—from Church Street to Robinson Hall to Emerson Hall. When his schedule permitted, it was his habit to work at home in the mornings, to stop by the Center on his way to Widener J at lunchtime, and to check in again at the end of the day. Given his boundless intellectual curiosity, Professor Bailyn interacted informally with many of the Center’s fellows during these visits; he was also a regular attendee at the Center’s seminars and lectures, as well as at its social events.
Perhaps more than any other of the Center’s founding faculty, Bernard Bailyn made the Charles Warren Center a vital part of his own academic life, and in so doing, he added immeasurably to the Center’s scholarly richness and energy.
Pat Denault worked with Bernard Bailyn during her two stints as Warren Center administrator (1975-85, 2001-04), and on Atlantic history projects: administrator for his Atlantic History Seminar, and named co-editor of a volume on the subject.