By Jill Radsken, Harvard Staff Writer
May 4, 2016
Daniel Aaron, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of English and American Literature Emeritus, died Saturday in Cambridge. He was 103.
Professor remembered as gifted scholar and avid conversationalist
A pioneer in American Studies and a prolific author, Aaron was also instrumental in founding the Library of America canon of classics.
“Never have I known an intellectual and a great scholar who wore his learning so lightly, and with such capacity to delight,” said James Simpson, the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English and chair of the English Department. “Conversation with him was utterly singular. He had the knack of negative capability to an extraordinary degree: immersing himself entirely, chameleon-like, in his interlocutor, while simultaneously and quietly impressing his own delightful stamp on any meeting. He has a place of deep affection in the hearts of everyone who was lucky enough to be touched by his angelic smile and singular intelligence.”
The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Aaron was born Aug. 4, 1912, and orphaned by age 10. As a Harvard graduate student in the late 1930s, he was the first to study in the program that would become American Studies. In his 2007 memoir, “The Americanist,” he wrote of finding intellectual purpose through the lens of World War II.
By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Staff Writer | August 3, 2012
“The United States suddenly loomed as the last democratic bastion in the world after the German occupation of France in 1940. About then, I began to feel that it might be almost as important to understand American civilization as to preserve it.”