Meeting Roy Rosenzweig

Just one week ago, the Center for History and New Media was renamed to the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media in honor of its irreplaceable and indefatigable late founder. I never met Roy; I came to CHNM too late. But he’s everywhere: virtually everyday I experience the products of his vision, boundless energy, and unrelenting work ethic, all fueled by gallons of coffee, bologna sandwiches, and contagious enthusiasm.

Though I’ve been getting to know him anecdotally for the last 18 months, the ceremony to rename CHNM to the Roy Rosenzweig CHNM and the discussion it generated served as something like a formal introduction. Not surprisingly, it took a half dozen speakers, a large space in a relatively new building dedicated to innovative research, a glitzy and inspiring metal-worked logo, and a large crowd to represent—still insufficiently—everything Roy stood for.

Some of his close friends and colleagues, all of whom spoke with admiration and a sense of loss, helped formalized what I’ve been trying to internalize since I arrived at CHNM. They spoke about how Roy refused to accept the status quo, of even the history profession and its societies and traditions, when he thought it could be improved for the better—land better for everyone in the broadest sense. They spoke about his constant push for openness and cooperation. They spoke, nostalgically, about Roy’s ways as a gentle taskmaster, who encouraged and helped his collaborators achieve more than they ever thought they could.

CHNM director Dan Cohen and History Department chair Brian Platt together made the point that tens of thousands of people benefit everyday from Roy’s tireless efforts and his vision, even though so very few of these people have any idea of the man himself or how he made the Center’s work possible. Numerous mentions were made of how Roy wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Still, I count myself among those who are hopeful that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media will remind everyone not just of the man himself, for those lucky enough to have known him, but also for everything he stood for. His name and watchful presence ought to remind us not only what we’re to be doing, but why.

Working at a place whose people and projects have taken on so many of the qualities that Roy embodied, I can’t help but feel that he and I have somehow already met. But I also know that if I ever could meet him after everything I’ve learned about him, despite his affability, humility, and his constant encouragement of junior faculty, words would fail me. Surely I’d be forced simply to read from my coffee mug as I do each day: Thanks, Roy.