Publication Date

October 17, 2016

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Historian of the Early Republic and the Midwest, of Empire and Sensibility; AHA Member

Andrew Robert Lee Cayton. Joel Elliott, National Humanities CenterFew professors truly balance the demands of teaching, scholarship, and service; fewer still accomplish it with modesty, grace, and charm. Andrew Cayton did. His death, on December 17, 2015, ­after seven months of treatment for a rare, aggressive cancer, deprived his students of an exemplar of the life of the mind, his readers of a superb narrator and critical intellect, his colleagues of an indefatigable partner, and his family and friends of an irreplaceable presence.

Born in Covington, Kentucky, Drew grew up in Marietta, Ohio. The Ohio River and the Midwest fascinated him from boyhood until his last days in Columbus, where he died four months after being appointed Warner Woodring Professor of Early American History at the Ohio State University. His formation as a scholar and teacher, however, depended on influences absorbed elsewhere: at the University of Virginia, where he met and married Mary Kupiec, and both graduated in 1976; and at Brown University, where they completed their PhDs in 1981. By then Mary was a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University and Drew was teaching in temporary posts at Harvard and Wellesley—the beginning of a long quest for careers at the same institution. In 1990, after he was an associate professor at Ball State University and she was on the cusp of promotion and tenure at Miami University, Ohio, their professional trajectories finally converged at Miami. By then their daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah, were six and two years old.

That Drew found his academic home at a university whose motto, Prodesse quam conspici, which exhorts its members “to accomplish rather than be conspicuous,” suited his preference for self-effacement. But Drew could not hide his light under a bushel indefinitely. In 1986, he published a revision of his dissertation as an award-winning monograph, The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country , 1790–1824; in 1990, he followed with a powerfully conceptualized synthesis, The Midwest and the Nation, coauthored with Peter Onuf. During the next decade he produced eight articles, two coedited volumes, a coauthored textbook (the very successful America: Pathways to the Present), and a history of the region that became the 19th state, Frontier Indiana (1998). In 2000, Miami recognized these publications and the pedagogical gifts that had earned him four teaching awards with a University Distinguished Professorship.

It is not unknown for distinguished professors to dodge service; Drew embraced it. Over the next 15 years he served the university in ways that ranged from mentoring younger colleagues (which he loved) to chairing high-profile, time-consuming committees (which he neither loved nor shirked). Meanwhile, outside Miami, he delivered more than a hundred invited addresses to local, regional, and national historical societies; conducted scores of teacher workshops and institutes; and served on innumerable editorial boards, prize juries, commemorative commissions, and professional-­society committees. He gave lavishly of his time and energy to the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and the Ohio Academy of History, both of which eventually made him president. He was equally devoted to the Ohio Humanities Council and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, serving in both formal and informal capacities. Meanwhile, he taught with undiminished passion and never slackened his pace of publication. Between 2000 and 2015, Drew produced another 10 articles; four coedited books (three volumes of essays and a massive “interpretive encyclopedia,” The American Midwest); a coauthored narrative of North American history from 1500 to 2000 as viewed through the lens of empire, The Dominion of War; and two solely authored books,Ohio: The History of a People (2002) and Love in the Time of Revolution: Trans-­Atlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793–1818 (2013). All the while, he wrote reviews and review essays at an average rate of one every four months, publishing 102 before he died.

A fascination with power and authority in postrevolutionary America first animated Drew’s scholarship, which ranged across topics that continually widened in focus. Thus an investigation of state formation in postrevolutionary trans-Appalachia generated his study of the Midwest as a region; the conquest and removal of Native peoples from the Old Northwest drew his attention to war and empire as forces in American development; his interest in an obscure novelist of the early republic, Gilbert Imlay, led him to analyze sentiment and sensibility as transatlantic cultural phenomena in his last and boldest work, Love in the Time of Revolution. Intellectual fearlessness partially explains this trajectory, but so too does restlessness. Completing any project made Drew want, urgently, to move on. He dreaded publication parties, or indeed any attempt to celebrate his achievements.

His habit of alternating collaborative projects with solely authored ones was therefore no accident. Collaboration meant always having projects in progress, and it profoundly suited his temperament. His energy, enthusiasm, refusal to claim ownership of ideas, and willingness to reconsider arguments made him an ideal working partner. Making an end of collaborative projects, moreover, seemed less fraught with stress than finishing his own books, because sharing in a scholarly accomplishment relieved him of the necessity of claiming it for himself.

Drew’s life was much more than the sum of his professional activities. He found joy in travel, golf, cooking, and long walks; in theater (particularly the musicals of Steven Sondheim) and movies of all descriptions; in opera, especially works by Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner; and in fiction, which he read at astonishing speed. But apart from the family he doted on, Drew loved conversation best, on the vast range of topics that interested him. Conversations fulfilled for him the kind of needs that worship can satisfy in religious believers: in the genuine exchange of views and sentiments, he believed, human beings became most fully alive to one another. The many friends and colleagues who delighted in those long talks now feel his absence most in the achingly frequent moments when they find themselves longing for the sound of a voice, and a laugh, that they can never hear again.

University of Colorado

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