Publication Date

January 24, 2020

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


  • United States

Daniel H. Calhoun

Daniel H. Calhoun, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, passed away on March 23, 2019, at the age of 91 in Santa Rosa, California. Calhoun taught at Davis from 1966 until his retirement in 1991.

Calhoun was born on November 24, 1927, in Brownsville, Tennessee, the youngest of four children. His father, James, was an educator who spent most of his career involved in Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools, and the family often lived on the school grounds. Calhoun’s mother, Fern Model Calhoun, born and raised in Kansas, was a homemaker, painter, and poet.

Calhoun was educated at Peabody Demonstration High School in Nashville, before earning a BA in history from Yale University and a PhD in 1956 from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with C. Vann Woodward. Calhoun’s early interests were in education and the rise of professionalism in the United States. After temporary teaching posts at Princeton and Columbia Universities and six years in the history department at Harvard University, Calhoun joined the faculty at Davis in 1966, where he taught the history of 19th-century America and other subjects for 25 years.

Calhoun’s range of scholarly interests comprised broad categories of the history and impact of education, systemically and practically: land, labor, race, and conflicts over power, particularly in rural areas. His publications included The American Civil Engineer: Origins and Conflict (1960); Professional Lives in America: Structure and Aspiration, 1750–1850 (1965); The Educating of Americans: A Documentary History (1969); The Intelligence of a People (1973); and a host of articles and reviews. Calhoun received a number of fellowships, including a Guggenheim Award.

Fundamental to Calhoun’s pursuit of knowledge was a quest for understanding historical change and social justice issues beyond traditional borders, whether national, transnational, or intellectual. His intellectual eclecticism became even more intense in retirement. While at Davis and after, he wrote three yet-to-be published manuscripts as well as articles in the Spanish language, which he mastered in his retirement. Manuscripts from this period include Working Views on the One-Party Road: Pittsburgh and San Francisco, 1860 and 1880 (1986); Popular Challenge: Roads toward Civil War in North America (1995); and “The 47”: American War in Mexico: An Interpretation for the 21st Century (1998).

At Davis, Calhoun was known as a graduate mentor who accepted nothing less than the highest aspirations in his students, enthusiastically promoting his students’ advancement, intellectual vision, and activism. He encouraged students to adopt diverse paradigms and to challenge basic assumptions within the historical canon. Calhoun willingly sponsored extra graduate seminars to engage nontraditional topics, events, and issues. He sometimes hosted evening gatherings in his home with freewheeling discussions on social theory, critical philosophy, the Frankfurt School, and forms of subjectivities and power relations not generally considered germane to American history. Many of his students choose careers in history, others in education and allied professions.

As a gay man during a time of rising homophobia, Calhoun distanced his personal life from his professional life. Yet he was connected to the Bay Area gay community, and after retirement, that relationship was more fully and openly celebrated. Calhoun traveled widely and spoke, read, and wrote in several languages. He maintained an abiding love of the outdoors and, as a Melville devotee, of the sea, sailing his own craft in the San Francisco Bay. He often sketched seascapes, which he paired with passages from Melville’s Moby-Dick. Some of Daniel Calhoun’s former students became close friends during his retirement years.Thus, to the continuing benefit of Daniel H. Calhoun’s erudition, was added deep affection and the warm extension of his friendship.

Memorial gifts can be made to the Daniel H. Calhoun Dissertation Research Award online or via UC Davis Gift Administration, 202 Cousteau Place, Suite 185, Davis, CA 95618.

Margaret Washington
Cornell University

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