Morning Coffee with Roy, Roy as Mentor""

Contributed By Elena Razlogova

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I was Roy’s student and worked with him at the Center for History and New Media for ten years. Working with Roy gave me a skewed, somewhat utopian perspective of what academia was really like. He was always happy to meet with me. He read all of my chapters within a week. He was in the audience when I presented my first conference paper and many times when I presented afterward. His letters of recommendation were written well before the deadline and required no reminder. One would expect that it would be stressful to have an adviser who was also your boss. And yet looking back at emails from that period it seems that it was me who constantly complained about needing to prepare a job talk or a paper, and it was Roy who always patiently sacrificed deadlines to give me time off. In fact, his Center have provided, and still does, this kind of flexible support to dozens of graduate students who have worked there through the years. Roy even gave me rides from campus to the metro occasionally so I didn’t have to take a bus. I was completely spoiled. I actually thought it was a matter of course to expect all these things from your adviser until I talked to my friends and found out that theirs did nothing of the sort.

Today, now that I know how rare that experience had been, I would like to mention some things that I learned from Roy.

For example, Roy taught me some of my English, my second language. From him, I first heard words like “deep-six,” as it “to deep-six this unconvincing argument,” and academic stock phrases such as “a study that fills a much-needed gap.” I learned my email-speak from Roy—how to say “thanks!” constantly no matter how trivial the task done for you; how to send encouraging one-liners, “That’s great! Roy,” in response to emails most people would ignore; how to preface work assignments with “whenever you have time” and “no rush on this,” when you really mean “do it as soon as you can.”

Roy taught me how to be a researcher. He researched everything. At the first memorial for Roy at George Mason University in Arlington, a friend of his described how Roy embarked on a research project to get a letter to the editor published in the <em>New York Times</em>. He determined the published letters often started with “We are shocked and dismayed,” and used the phrase. The letter was published. Roy demanded the same dedication from his students and research assistants. I still remember how I spent hours going through the <em>Washington Post</em> in search of a Doonesbury cartoon for him that gave the only two possible reasons for producing web sites as “fear and greed,” and then through the Hearst press from the 1940s in search of an anti-Sidney Hillman limerick, to include on the <em>Who Build America</em> CD. The limerick was not printed when Steven Fraser’s book <em>Labor Will Rule</em> claimed it would be, but several weeks later. None of his students could get away with close readings of a few texts—a method then popular in my field of historical cultural studies. I don’t need to refer to <em>The Chicago Manual of Style</em> to format my book; I can refer to Roy’s and Elizabeth Blackmar’s <em>The Park and the People</em>, a study that cites every possible kind of source, and has the most elaborate abbreviation system I have yet to encounter in a work of scholarship.

Roy taught me how to comment on other people’s work. When he showed me how to rewrite completely one of my less successful drafts, in a 5-page single-spaced line-by-line commentary, he was quite direct and at times sarcastic. To one of my wilder propositions he responded, “I am prepared to believe that this is the case, but the claims here seem to rest on two anecdotes.” Yet he was also kind—he also used, quite without foundation, words “perceptive,” “well-written,” and “wonderful,” the latter three times. I’m not sure Roy was capable of writing comments that were not detailed—he gave such thorough responses not just to dissertation and book chapters but also to papers he assigned in his Clio Wired class (an introduction to digital history) that he invented and taught for years.

Roy taught me how to be a radical historian. I read mounds of books that claimed to provide ever more radical readings of various practices and texts. In contrast, it was useful to encounter Roy’s less ostentatious, everyday brand of radicalism. At the first memorial for Roy at George Mason University in Arlington, Alison Landsberg, his friend, colleague, and neighbor, read an email from Roy and Deborah from 2003 where they invited friends to participate in an antiwar candlelight vigil in Arlington, Virginia. “If there is interest,” they wrote, “we would be happy to organize a group dinner of take out food at our house before hand (5:30?) or after.” At the time it seemed that mass demonstrations in DC, while inspiring to participants, changed neither gender policies nor war plans of the Bush Administration. Yet Roy never gave up. Every single one of his projects—from an antiwar vigil to his work at the <em>Radical History Review</em> to convincing the AHA to make articles in the <em>American Historical Review</em> available for free on the web—aimed at getting things done. The Center for History and New Media, which he founded to democratize history, is perhaps his most important work of radical scholarship.

Most importantly, in doing all of the above, Roy taught me how to be a human being. He ignored no one—at every meeting or party, he would make sure to find the least important person in the room and strike up a conversation. Even after he became ill and was often tired he continued to help colleagues, advise students, direct the Center, and of course, answer his email. Many people had no idea how ill he was and where shocked by his passing because he never stopped being Roy, in any circumstances.

I miss the sense of security Roy gave his students immensely and yet I will always have his sense of purpose in doing history. Most of all, I miss him. Thanks, Roy.