U.S. Intellectual History Blog

In Memoriam: Michael Katz, 1939-2014

Yesterday, we all learned of the tragic passing of historian Michael Katz. Many of us are still processing the loss of a great historian and, from everything I’ve read, an even better man. So today’s thread will be a place for us to reflect on his life, his legacy, and the wonderful scholarship he left to the world. Of course, I hope this doesn’t dissuade my fellow bloggers from talking about his life as well, as there’s so much to say about him.

Katz’s career was a testament to being flexible as an academic. Just taking a look at his University of Pennsylvania page reminds one of how he was able to tackle several fields of historical scholarship in his career. If you didn’t know Katz for his wonderful work on education, then perhaps you were familiar with him in regards to urban history. And if you weren’t terribly familiar with him in either of those fields, then there’s a good chance you came across his fantastic scholarship on the field of social welfare.katz_1

In recent weeks, the ideas behind all of these fields have returned to the national political scene due to events in Ferguson, Missouri. Debates about education, the cities, and social welfare have been a prominent part of national discourse since the 1960s (and, in many ways, stretch back decades before that). If there was ever a time to return to his work, it’s right now. Sadly, we won’t have the opportunity to hear even more from him in such a critical time in our nation’s history.

This year has already proven to be a difficult one in regards to deaths in the myriad fields of the humanities. I’ve already written about the passing of Vincent Harding and Maya Angelou. And I’m well aware those aren’t the only deaths to mourn from this year. I feel somewhat inadequate in writing about Katz’s death—I was only slowly digging into his scholarship when I heard about his passing—but I hope you take this thread as a chance to talk about his work, his legacy, and the impact it’s had on you as both a scholar and as a person.

Sundays this semester will be, for me, not just my posting day at the blog. It’ll also be a reading day as well. So, today, when I’m done with classwork, my mind will turn towards the 2005 Journal of American History article he co-wrote with Mark J. Stern and Jamie J. Fader, “The New African American Inequality.”[1] Part of the June 2005 issue, “The New African American Inequality” serves as a reminder of how historical scholarship can often take on urgent meaning in trying times. There’s a great deal more to be said about the enormous contributions he’s made to so many fields–and I hope all of you will add to that in the comments. His books such as The Undeserving Poor and The “Underclass” Debate, among others,are important works on the post-World War II American experience.

For a moving tribute to Katz, please read the touching remarks by Tom Sugrue posted on Facebook yesterday.

[1] Katz, Michael B., Stern, Mark J., and Fader, Jamie J. “The New African American Inequality,” Journal of American History, Vol. 92, No. 1 (June 2005), pg. 75-108.

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for the kind words. He’s an important scholar that, I suspect, we’ll be talking about a long time to come.

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