Professor Honored at 80th Birthday Celebration

Kennedy School Professor Samantha Power has travelled the globe interviewing the victims, culprits, and arbitrators of human rights atoricities. Yet, she found the inspiration for her Pultizer Prize-winning work,“A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” right here in Cambridge.

With the encouragement of University Professor Stanley Hoffmann, what started as a 30-page assignment grew into an 80-page term paper and ultimately a book.

Power, along with dozens of other scholars, paid tribute to Hoffmann’s influential career at an 80th birthday celebration held at the Minda de Gunzberg Center for European Studies on Friday.

Throughout the day, Hoffmann’s former students and colleagues hailed him as the kind of professor who has perpetually prioritized teaching undergraduates above his research.

Since 1955, Hoffmann has taught in Harvard’s government department and advised numerous now-prominent professors and journalists while penning several books—including “Gulliver’s Troubles: Or, the Setting of American Foreign Policy” and “Duties Beyond Borders.”

“His intellectual power has at some point intimidated everyone in this room,” said M. Anne Sa’adah ’76, a professor at Dartmouth College.

Other former students described Hoffmann as “part of a cult of personality” of Harvard professors and an “absolutely legendary lecturer.”

Hundreds of undergraduates regularly flocked to his popular courses on the origins of war and French history, despite the universal concensus that he assigned a voluminous amount of reading.

Princeton professor Gary J. Bass ’92 recalls an incident when a teaching fellow burst into Hoffmann’s office with a course syllabus in hand.

“Stanley, you are not doing this to these poor children!” Bass said in imitation of the teaching fellow.

As founder of both CES and the Social Studies concentration, students said he strove to integrate various academic disciplines and combat the specialization of the University.

“If Stanley had left the University in 1970, he still would have had an enormous shaping influence on Harvard,” said David Blackbourn, current director of CES.

Throughout his career, Hoffmann’s personal experiences in Vichy France catalyzed his scholarship.

“He wore the tragedy of the 20th century on his shoulders,” Bass said.

Outside the classroom, Hoffmann sought to break down the barriers between the ivory tower and the real world.

In spite of seeing the dark side of politics, Hoffmann maintained hope for the future and instilled in his students a sense of social and political responsibility.

As a result, during the turblent 1960s, Hoffmann encouraged students to be politically engaged and was a staunch defender of students’ rights and anti-war activities, such as the 1968 surge on University Hall.

Today, many of those students look back at Hoffmann as an inspiration for their own teaching and scholarship.

“He stands as...what we came to Harvard for, for what it used to represent,” said Gideon Rose, a former student of Hoffmann who now serves as the managing editor for the journal Foreign Affairs. He stands for “what a serious public intellectual can and should be.”