Harvard, NYU Vie for British Historian

Harvard’s history department is battling New York University’s (NYU) Business School for a prominent young British scholar.

Despite having recently decided to leave Oxford for a tenured position at NYU, Niall Ferguson is breakfasting this morning with Akira Iriye, chair of Harvard’s history department, who said the department is interested in bringing Ferguson to Harvard as a tenured professor.

“He did not come up from New York just to have breakfast with me,” Iriye said. “Whether his interest develops into anything more formal, I don’t know.”

And Iriye’s efforts have the approval of University President Lawrence H. Summers.

“The president has given the green light for FAS to pursue Ferguson,” said Robert Mitchell, spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

But Harvard has yet to make any formal overtures, Mitchell said.

The 38-year-old Ferguson is a preeminent professor of political and financial history at Jesus College, Oxford University. He is the author of five works on international affairs and business, including The Pity of War, a widely acclaimed study of Britain’s role in World War I.

Ferguson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Spokesperson Joanne Hvala of NYU’s Stern School of Business said Ferguson has formally accepted that university’s Herzog Family chair in financial history. She added that NYU is unconcerned by Harvard’s interest in Ferguson.

Ferguson is slotted to teach two courses—“Economy and Politics of European Integration” and “Financial History: Money and Power in 18th to 21st Century”—at NYU starting in January.

The effort to bring Ferguson to Harvard fits past suggestions made by Summers that Harvard should try to attract younger professors who still have long careers ahead of them.

But the history department’s interest in Ferguson predates Summers’ arrival.

“Informal noises began as long as five years ago, but getting from that state to something more formal takes time,” Iriye said.

Iriye said he hopes Ferguson will have time following their breakfast to meet with some of the faculty and students in the history department.

In order for a department to make a new appointment, an ad hoc committee reviews the requests from various departments and the president’s office gives permission to pursue these candidates.

Ferguson, who has in previous years served as a visiting professor at NYU, will attend NYU’s Second Global Alumni Conference in Florence, Italy, at the end this month, participating the panel “From the Medici to Morgan: High Finance and High Culture.”

In addition to The Pity of War, Ferguson’s scholarly works include a prize-winning history of the Rothschilds bank, The World’s Banker. His new work, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Its Lessons for Global Power, is scheduled to be published in April.