Stanley Hoffmann sat quietly in his unlit office, surrounded by piles of books. “My knee is in a very bad mood today,” he said into the phone.
“I never thought I’d get to 80,” the European studies heavyweight said later. “I never thought I’d live quite that long.”
Hoffmann turned 80 last week, but he does not feel a day over 79, he said. His brain is as sprightly as ever—but perhaps selectively.
“Mentally, I feel reasonably alright,” Hoffmann said. “Except I keep forgetting more and more the names of people I don’t like.”
But those closest to Hoffmann—presumably the ones whose names he remembers—will gather today for a symposium celebrating his 80 years, 54 of which he has spent teaching at Harvard. The event—sponsored by the Center for European Studies, the Department of Government, and the provost’s office—will feature talks by Hoffmann’s colleagues and former students.
“They’ve done an extremely good job about leaving me in the dark,” said Hoffmann, who sympathizes for the “poor” speakers.
“I hope it’s not too embarrassing for Stanley,” said Peter A. Hall, a professor of European studies. “He’s a very modest man; I’m sure the event will be excruciating for him.”
Hoffmann, a towering figure in the government department, began teaching at Harvard in 1955. Since then, he founded the CES in 1968 and helped to establish the committee on degrees in Social Studies.
“His efforts to capture the complexity of the world sets standards that many of us only hope that we can try to reach,” Hall said. “He has the capacity to convey nuanced observations with utter clarity.”
Hall, who co-taught a historical studies course with Hoffman, called the expert on French political and intellectual history the “finest lecturer I’ve ever heard.”
“As a result, it’s terrifying to teach with him,” Hall said.
Hoffman said that while he may have put his research on hold in favor of his teaching, he said the vast knowledge he has accumulated over the years is largely a result of just that choice.
“There is nothing like the pressure of having to prepare for courses in order to sink into the material,” he said. “It’s fun to sense that one knows more and more.”
Hoffmann plans to continue teaching international relations with the hope of effecting changes in Americans’ perception of the rest of the world, something he said has been one of his missions throughout his career.
“I’ve been quite unsuccessful in trying to tell Americans that they don’t understand much about the outside world,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann said he has spent his academic tenure coming to terms with “the most traumatic period of my life,” when he and his mother escaped Austria for France, where they saw Hitler gradually take power. Forced to flee Paris, he said they “never knew whether we’d be alive or not.”
After reminiscing about past travels, experiences, and now-deceased friends, Hoffmann said he longs to return to places quite unlike his current place of residence.
“After all these years,” Hoffmann said. “I remain convinced that every human being is entitled to a very large amount of sunshine and warm weather.”
—Staff Writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Dec. 5 news story, "CES Founder Lauded at 80," repeatedly misspelled the name of the founder of the Center for European Studies. His name is Stanley Hoffmann, not Hoffman.
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