Fall Winter 08

The Core


The Ambassadors

They've Got Game

Meteoric Metcalfs


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Secret History

It's A Small World

Remembering One of the Greats

Full Circle

Photo Finish

Ugandan Diaries

Go Ask Alumni

Eye on the Quads

Remembering One of the Greats

A group of alumni and friends recently endowed a professorship in the memory of Karl Joachim Weintraub, AB’49, AM’52, PhD’57, an esteemed teacher at Chicago. We spoke with the first holder of the Weintraub Chair, Constantin Fasolt, about receiving this honor and remembering Weintraub. Fasolt, a historian of medieval and early modern Europe, served as master of the Social Sciences Collegiate Division from 2005 to 2008.

Having known Jock Weintraub as a colleague, what does it mean for you to be appointed to a professorship named in his honor?

It means being recognized as someone firmly dedicated to teaching undergraduate students. It means keeping Jock’s memory alive, which entails living up to a very high standard of excellence in teaching. It also means feeling a special bond with the alumni, both those who studied with Jock and especially those who contributed to the endowment that made this named chair possible. I had a chance to meet some of the donors, and Jock’s teachings impressed them deeply. Their generosity means that his memory will endure at the university he loved.

In his 1984 Ryerson Lecture, Weintraub considered the historical sense an essential aspect of humanity. He said that history teaches great tolerance when one reflects on the fact that all cultural creations—from philosophy to religion to political states—are subject to change: “The time-bound quality of everything human haunts me.” To what extent did your conversations with him influence your ideas?

We had similar passions, but we disagreed about their meaning. We always argued about the nature of history, the relationship between text and context, the best way to teach, and so on. We did share an underlying commitment to the study of history, understood as the study of open-ended change over time in the endeavor of understanding others. Even now I’m not sure I agree with him that history teaches great tolerance. It can teach tolerance, but only if it is carried out in a spirit of tolerance. History can also teach great intolerance (think of Serbia’s refusal to let Kosovo gain independence because it’s supposedly been part of Serbia’s identity since the Middle Ages). It is fair to say that Jock saw his teaching as a humanistic defense against such tyrannical uses of history. This idea must have been impressed upon him quite young by his own experiences of history in Germany and Holland during World War II.

Weintraub was a brilliant teacher and dedicated to the importance of a liberal education. In your own teaching and administrative service for the College, can you speak about how Chicago’s Core curriculum prepares today’s students? What do they share with former generations of students? What differentiates them?

The Core is neither a set of distribution requirements nor a set of courses introducing students to various scholarly disciplines. It is a comprehensive program of general education that is designed to give students the criteria of judgment they will need in order to exercise intellectual authority in any of the main areas of knowledge, regardless of whether or not they have any special expertise in that area of knowledge, be it the humanities, the social sciences, or the natural sciences. The Core’s main purpose is to teach students how to untangle the claims made by experts by asking for the reasons on which those claims rest, and thus how to resist such claims if they are poorly founded, even if they are not experts themselves. I believe this aim is the same now as it was 50 years ago when Jock first taught in the College. What differentiates today’s students from former generations is chiefly the different culture in which they live. That culture makes the Core, if anything, more necessary and more urgent today than it was in the past.—Joanne Berens, MFA’93