learning from Roy

Contributed By Betsy Blackmar

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Roy taught me most of what I know about history that matters. He taught me a lot of history that I didn’t know mattered until I read what he wrote (those brave, dedicated, obstinate Musteites, the class-mixing Elks and the teetoling Washingtonians; Allen Nevins and his vision of a popular history in American Heritage, to say nothing of wikipedia, which I now know I can use with utter confidence). In graduate school, he and Warren Leon taught all of us how to experiment in teaching history, and Roy just kept running with that one. He taught me how to use a data base back in the days of Kaypros, and he kept running with that one, too. So what, if he entered “lawn” and I entered “grass”and we both entered “politics” for just about every other keyword? Roy tried very very hard to teach me how to write transition sentences, to say nothing of how to get organized, meet deadlines, and work 18 hours a day without getting cranky. What could one do if what Roy willed for his eight hours was to get another twenty tasks done? He taught me how to argue as a way of thinking a problem through and without getting cranky--well, he never got cranky, anyway. He taught me how to put some flesh and bones onto historical abstractions, how to find the people and think about what a difference they made to the story we were trying to tell. He taught me to have faith in people, who would go about making history, whatever the rules. This photograph is of Roy about five years ago doing research on the Central Park Conservancy. But Roy isn’t here to show me how to upload this paragraph and the image in the same file, so I have to count on the rest of you he taught to figure out how to fix this.