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Meet the two Ari Kelmans

By Dave Jones on November 9, 2006 in University

The two professors talk about their common academic interests, play off each other's jokes and occasionally slip a Yiddish word or two into the conversation.

You might think that these men, both Jewish and both in their mid-30s, were brothers. But, unless you happen to be George Foreman's children, brothers do not have the same name — in this case, Ari Kelman.

They are not related, except by the fact that both are members of the UC Davis faculty: Ari Kelman, an associate professor of history since 2005, and Ari Y. Kelman, assistant professor of American studies, who started this academic year.

Not to be outdone are Professor Alan M. Taylor and Professor Alan S. Taylor. Both are historians: Alan M. an economic historian in the economics department, and Alan S. a U.S. historian in the history department. Alan M. joined the UC Davis faculty in 1999, and Alan S. has been here since 1994.

The name game can lead to confusion, but the Kelmans — during a recent interview — seemed to take it in stride. Alan M. Taylor could not make the interview, and Alan S. Taylor is at UC Davis' Washington, D.C., center for the fall quarter.

Kelman the historian said some students recently expressed to him their excitement about his winter quarter class: The Individual and Community in America.

Oops, that would be American studies professor Ari Kelman.

"I told them you should take it anyway, it'll be great," said Kelman the historian. "You should take as many classes from Ari Kelman as you can."

The historian added this about the other Ari Kelman: "Everyone likes him that I have ever met, much more than me. I'm willing to ride his coattails."

David Biale, a UC Davis history professor and director of Jewish Studies, recalled his reaction last year when the first Ari Kelman came to campus. First, you need to know that Biale lives in Berkeley and knows Ari Y. Kelman's parents, who live there.

Biale told Dateline by e-mail: "When I heard that our department (history) was interviewing Ari Kelman, I said: 'That's good, we'll get an American Jewish historian in the bargain.' A colleague said that that was impossible, since this Ari Kelman worked on New Orleans (referring to his book A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans).

"I was adamant that there couldn't possibly be two Ari Kelmans until I tried out Google and found out that there are. And now we've got both!"

The Kelmans politely forward mail clearly intended for the other. When doing so, the 37-year-old Ari Kelman uses this signature: Ari "no middle initial" Kelman. Which is true: He has no middle name.

The other Ari Kelman is Ari Yitzchak Kelman, 35. He lived in Los Angeles until age 12, then moved to Berkeley. "Some time in high school we almost moved to Cleveland, and we probably would have lived in Shaker Heights," he said.

That would have put him in the same town as Ari "no middle initial" Kelman, who grew up in Shaker Heights.

But, this Kelman added, "We almost moved to Berkeley," so maybe he would have lived in the same city as Ari Y. Kelman.

In fact, neither family moved, and the Ari Kelmans never met until they both ended up on the UC Davis faculty. They had heard of each other, though.

"Maybe four years ago, he (Ari Y. Kelman) was quoted or mentioned in The New York Times, in an article about his first research, and my mom called me to say she was angry that I hadn't told her about the article," said Ari "no middle initial" Kelman. "I knew he was out there."

And Ari Y. Kelman and his parents knew of the other Ari Kelman. Ari Y. Kelman's father is a rabbi, and one day a member of his temple brought in the UC Davis history department newsletter with a photo and article on Ari Kelman, thinking he was the rabbi's son.

Wrong Ari Kelman. And when temple members heard Ari Kelman on the radio after Hurricane Katrina, that was the other Ari Kelman, too, talking about his environmental history book on New Orleans and its river.

Ari Y. Kelman's first book is due out next year. It is titled Station Identification, about Yiddish radio in the United States.

Both Kelmans said they hope to achieve the success of their colleagues the Alan Taylors. Alan M. is director of the Center for the Evolution of the Global Economy at UC Davis, and he is a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco. Alan S. received a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.

If Ari Kelman the historian should ever win the Pulitzer, Ari Y. Kelman said, he is "hoping that they'll mistakenly give the prize to me."

Ari Kelman the historian said he would not mind sharing resumes with Ari Kelman the American studies professor. "We could advance faster in our careers" he joked.

But regardless of the Alan Taylors' academic achievements, Ari Y. Kelman is certain that he and the other Ari Kelman "could take 'em in basketball."

"But not in pool," Ari "no middle initial" Kelman quickly added.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,