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American Historian and Holocaust Teacher Paul Goodman Dies

By Susanne Rockwell on October 6, 1995 in

Paul Goodman, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Davis, died Oct. 6 at his home in El Cerrito, Calif. He was 61.

His death was caused by complications from lung cancer, which was first diagnosed five years ago, according to friend and UC Davis colleague David Brody. Memorial services are planned at UC Davis, but no date and time have been set.

Professor Goodman taught American history at UC Davis from 1965 to 1994. He specialized in the history of American politics and the Holocaust. Professor Goodman also was known for his strong and effective criticism of University of California administrations and for his belief in student access to university education, Brody said.

"In his career, Paul Goodman combined the qualities of scholar, prophet, advisor, and friend to colleagues and students alike," said Ted Margadant, chair of the UC Davis history department. "He was the moral conscience of our department, both in his commitment to the highest standards of scholarship and in his devotion to the ideals of a just society and a democratic university."

Professor Goodman received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1961 and taught at Brooklyn College for three years before moving to UC Davis in 1965. As a historian of the early 19th century, he published numerous articles, as well as books on "The Democratic-Republicans of Massachusetts: Politics in a Young Republic" (Harvard, 1964) and "Towards a Christian Republic: Antimasonry and the Great Transition in New England" (Oxford, 1988).

He recently completed a new book manuscript, "Of One Blood: The Origins of Racial Equality and Abolitionism in the United States, 1800-1840." Publication is anticipated in the near future. He completed this book during his five-year illness with cancer.

Professor Goodman was a remarkably versatile and effective teacher, Margadant said. For many years, he taught courses in American history to large numbers of undergraduates and played a vital role in the graduate program. In the 1980s, he expanded his teaching interests from American to European history and developed a new course, "Why the Holocaust?" The class on the origins and tragic outcome of anti-semitism in European culture became popular with students.

"He required students to come in and talk to him individually about why they were taking the class," said Kathy Cairns, who earned her doctorate at UC Davis this year. "How many full professors take you into their offices and spend one-half hour wanting to know about you?" Cairns remembers Professor Goodman as brilliant, demanding, inspiring, dedicated and painfully honest.

The experience of teaching the holocaust course convinced Professor Goodman of the importance of integrating Jewish history into the European history program. Consequently, in 1994 he established an endowed chair in Jewish history, which will be funded by his estate. This is the first endowed chair in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science. Endowed chairs provide a permanent source of money to support research and scholarly endeavors.

The chair is named in honor of Emanuel Ringelblum, a Polish Jew and professional historian who returned from Switzerland to the Warsaw ghetto during World War II in order to establish a record of the Jewish struggle for survival under German military occupation. Although the historian was executed on March 7, 1944, along with his wife, his son and 38 others who shared a hiding place, his story was not lost. Ringleblum secretly encased his diary and notes in metal canisters and buried them where they were found after the war in the ghetto rubble. The secret archive was published as "Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto." Professor Goodman often used these memoirs of the Warsaw ghetto in his course on the history of the Holocaust.

"Emanuel Ringelblum preserved the record to allow history to be written," Professor Goodman said. "He was a rare example of someone who was able to blend his professional life with exemplary civic duty."

Since 1985, Professor Goodman had anonymously supported a fund to help outstanding students who enter the doctoral degree program in history at UC Davis. Last year, Professor Goodman gave enough money to establish the fellowship in perpetuity for one or more students in the name of the American socialist, Eugene V. Debs. Debs devoted his life to the cause of social justice for American workers in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Past president of the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers, Professor Goodman worked for years to make the academic tenure process more open and less secretive. He helped pass a 1978 bill in the California state legislature that gave UC faculty access to the texts of their evaluations with the names of the evaluators deleted. "The university swiftly got this reasonable effort at balancing interests struck down by the courts," Professor Goodman recounted in a 1990 opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee in support of further judicial appeals "to make honest evaluations without secrecy." After many years of controversy, the position that Professor Goodman fought for was recently adopted by University of California as policy, Brody said.

On the personal side, Professor Goodman shared a passion for opera and gourmet cooking with friends and colleagues. He was also known for his sense of humor. During the last several years of early retirements spurred by state budget cuts, Professor Goodman roasted his retiring colleagues by composing witty tunes and accompanying himself on a banjo. Professor Goodman grew up as an only child in Brooklyn, New York, and has no immediate surviving family.

Donations in Professor Goodman's memory to support UC Davis history graduate students may be made to "UC Regents," care of Debbie Lyon, Department of History, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.

Media contact(s)

Susanne Rockwell, Web and new media editor, (530) 752-2542,