Doris Silk Goldstein (1927–2016)
Ellen Schrecker, March 2017
Scholar of European Intellectual History; AHA 50-Year Member
Doris Goldstein died after a brief illness on May 23, 2016, in Durham, North Carolina. For more than 30 years she taught European history—and much else—at the Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, where she was sometimes the only full-time historian on the faculty. A quintessential New Yorker, Goldstein was born in 1927 and graduated from Queens College in 1948. She earned her PhD in European intellectual history at Bryn Mawr College under Felix Gilbert in 1955, a formative experience that she spoke of with pride and gratitude throughout her life.
For those of us in a somewhat younger generation, Doris Goldstein was a caring mentor and role model. She was one of that tiny cohort of female scholars, devoted to the “Little Berks” conferences of women in the historical profession, who managed to carve out fulfilling careers within the academic community. Because the discipline was so suffused with sexism during the 1950s and early 1960s, if it hadn’t been for people like Doris, we might have assumed that women could not be serious historians. To her students, she was a warm and inspirational teacher who challenged them to engage with ideas at a higher level than they initially thought they were capable of.
A dedicated feminist, throughout her life Doris Goldstein was also a committed intellectual historian who published prodigiously in French and British intellectual history. She is best known for Trial of Faith: Religion and Politics in Tocqueville’s Thought (1975), one of the first books to focus on what has since become a major concern of Tocqueville historiography. Delving into Tocqueville’s religious views, Goldstein, an avowed secularist, had no investment in Catholicism or any other organized religion (despite devoting her entire teaching career to an Orthodox Jewish institution). Nonetheless, she was curious about the role religion played in Tocqueville’s political vision. The result was what one reviewer called an “illuminating” study that demonstrated, in her words, how that iconic thinker viewed “both religion and political participation . . . the two irreducible elements necessary to a good society.”
When she moved to North Carolina after retiring from Yeshiva in 1992, it was primarily to indulge in another great passion of her life: bird-watching. It was a treat to accompany her on one of her near-daily bird walks in a park close to her home, to hear her enthuse about an “adorable chickadee” or a “gorgeous cardinal,” while also explaining how the British historical profession had developed. Doris never abandoned her historical endeavors, becoming a faithful member of the Triangle Intellectual History Seminar, formed in 1995. She viewed its monthly meetings at the National Humanities Center during the academic year as the heart of her lively intellectual life in retirement. During the last two decades of her life, she focused mainly on British intellectual history, especially British historiography. She presented some of this work to the seminar, producing two articles for Storia della Storiografia: “Confronting Time: The Oxford School of History and the Non-Darwinian Revolution” (2004) and “The Making of Social Evolutionary History” (2012).
She is survived by her daughter, Gina Goldstein, of New York City.
Historian of Japan
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