Publication Date

April 1, 2003

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Paul Harold Beik, Centennial Professor of History emeritus at Swarthmore College, died at the age of 87 on June 8, 2002, near Winter Park, Florida.

Born in Olivet, Michigan, and raised in Albany, New York, Paul Beik received his bachelor's degree from Union College in 1935 and his PhD in French history from Columbia University in 1943. As an instructor at Columbia, he joined three other faculty members, including Jacques Barzun, in publishing Introduction to Naval History, which was used in the Navy’s V–12 program. In 1945 Beik accepted an assistant professorship at Swarthmore College and moved with his wife, Doris, and first son, William—soon to be followed by a second, Stephen—to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. There he immediately became a pillar of the history department and remained so until his retirement 35 years later in 1980.

Paul Beik's career exemplifies Swarthmore's model of a faculty who excel as teachers in a demanding undergraduate curriculum built around a distinctive honors program, but who actively pursue scholarship as well. He was known by generations of students for his intellectual rigor and his personal encouragement. His example influenced a number of careers, including several of today's prominent historians. His teaching at Swarthmore covered all modern European history. Through postdoctoral study at Columbia, he added Russian history as a teaching field rivaling his coverage of France. One of his colleagues has emphasized how Beik tended to be intrigued by Marxist interpretations as he remained noted for his fairness and study of all sides of an issue. His seminar, The Rise of Liberalism, became legendary and influenced just about every history major produced by the college. Even when he was the oldest member of his department, Beik stood out as the most youthful and questing in his approach to history.

Paul Beik was one of the leading American experts on the French Revolution. In 1944 Columbia University Press published his dissertation, A Judgment of the Old Regime. In 1948–49, while holding a Guggenheim Fellowship in Paris, he made contact with Georges Lefebvre and later wrote an appreciation of his work for the English edition of The French Revolution from its Origins to 1793. In 1956 the American Philosophical Society published Beik’s new book, The French Revolution Seen from the Right (which was reprinted by Fertig in 1970). In 1959 Beik published a successful textbook, Modern Europe: A History since 1500, in collaboration with his Swarthmore colleague, Lawrence Lafore.

In 1965 Beik wrote a paperback, Louis Philippe and the July Monarchy for Van Nostrand’s Anvil Series. In 1970 he completed The French Revolution, an extensive document collection published by Harper & Row that is widely available in public and university libraries. Throughout his career he was called upon to review publications in his field.

Given his contributions to the historical profession, it was no surprise that several score of Beik's former students joined to endow at Swarthmore an annual visiting lectureship in his honor devoted alternately to the history of France and Russia. This important series is now in its 20th year.

After retirement, Paul and Doris Beik moved to Winter Park, Florida, where together they edited a collection of the selected works of Flora Tristran, translated by Doris. After her death in 1988, Paul was determined to complete this work, and it was in fact, published by Indiana University Press in 1993. Paul Beik was afflicted by Alzheimer's disease in his final years, but remained active, even playing tennis skillfully and enthusiastically almost to the end of his life.

Vice President (retired)
Swarthmore College


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