Nathan Irvin Huggins (1927-89)
David Herbert Donald, November 1990
Nathan Irvin Huggins, W.E.B. DuBois Professor of History and of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, died on December 5, 1989, at the age of 62.
Born in Chicago and raised in San Francisco, Dr. Huggins received his undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley, and his graduate training at Harvard, which awarded him the Ph.D. degree in 1962. After teaching at Long Beach State College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Dr. Huggins became a professor of history at Columbia University in 1970. Ten years later he joined the Harvard faculty as chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department and director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Research in Afro-American Studies.
Huggins served on numerous departmental and faculty committees at Columbia, and was an effective member of the Board of Syndics of the Harvard University Press. He was also active in the affairs of the historical profession, serving on the editorial board of The American Historical Review and The Journal of American History and as a member of the Program Committee, the Executive Board, and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize Committee of the Organization of American Historians. In addition, he was a juror for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a member of the Smithsonian Council, the USIA Panel of International Educational Exchange, and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools.
At Harvard Dr. Huggins strove to give legitimacy and respectability to the Afro-American Studies department by raising standards for both the faculty and the students. Refusing to simplify the complexities of the black experience, he sought to make his students and his readers understand that Afro-American history was not a separate subject but was part of what he often referred to as a "seamless web" of American history.
His most influential publications include Harlem Renaissance; Black Odyssey: The Afro-American Ordeal in Slavery; and Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass. He also edited Voices from the Harlem Renaissance and was co-editor of Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience. At the time of his death he was completing a long historiographical introduction for a new edition of Black Odyssey.
Huggins is survived by his wife, Brenda Smith Huggins.
David Herbert Donald