History’s Gordon Tenured

Peter E. Gordon—a modern intellectual historian who is currently the Hazel Associate Professor of History in the Social Sciences—will join the ranks of Harvard’s tenured faculty next year, having recently been granted the position of Professor of History.

Gordon currently holds a joint position in Social Studies and History and has taught courses such as History 10b, “Western Societies, Politics and Cultures: From 1650 to the Present.”

His area of focus is modern German intellectual history, and he has written on both German and Jewish thought.

“We decided to promote him because he’s doing fantastically important work and we wanted him to be here for the long run,” said Folger Fund Professor of History Andrew D. Gordon, the current chair of the Department of History.

Sitting in his book-packed office, which is tucked away in a corner of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Peter Gordon said he has long been interested in becoming a professor.

“I grew up in a family that placed a high value on academics and culture,” said Gordon, whose father is professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Washington. “[Becoming a professor] always struck me as almost a default.”

Gordon recalled reading Platonic dialogues with his sister when he was 11 and 12 and later read the Book of Job, which he said struck him “as so disastrously unsatisfactory as an explanation for suffering that it probably moved me to read more systematically in both history and philosophy.”

Gordon began his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago but transferred to Reed College and graduated with a degree in history along with philosophy. He went on to do his graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley.

Since coming to Harvard, Gordon has taught a wide variety of courses—from introductory surveys to advanced seminars—that, along with his writing and research, have kept him busy.

“Teaching is of course quite labor-intensive but also quite rewarding,” he said. “Trying to formulate one’s ideas clearly for a lecture provides some of the best training for one’s own writing.”

He is currently working on a book about the 1929 encounter of two German philosophers, Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer, which he hopes to complete during his one-year leave from teaching next year.

One of the most significant changes Gordon will face when he becomes a tenured professor will be an increased focus on teaching courses in the history department.

He has only been able to offer two history department courses each year under his joint appointment to History and Social Studies, according to Andrew Gordon, but Peter Gordon will now teach “100 percent in the history department...it will allow him to get more deeply involved in working with graduate students and with undergraduates.”

Peter Gordon said that although he will now be a full-time history professor, he still hopes to “sustain strong ties to social studies.”

“It is a marvelous program,” he said.

Liora R. Halperin ’05—a joint History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator—was advised by Gordon for her thesis on Arabic language study among early Zionists and is also a student in Gordon’s History 10b class.

“I really think that he deserves tenure for all the right reasons,” Halperin said.

“He’s clearly very strong [in his academic studies],” she added, but he’s also “just a good person who really looks out for his students. He’s really humble, which I think makes it easier to connect with him on a personal level.”

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.