Obituaries

In Remembrance: Daniel H. Calhoun ’52 Died on March 23 2019

Daniel H. Calhoun, professor emeritus at the University of California–Davis, passed away on March 23, 2019, in Santa Rosa, California, at the age of 91. Calhoun was professor of history at Davis from 1966 until his 1991 retirement. 

Calhoun, a son of the South, was educated at Peabody Demonstration High School in Nashville before graduating in history from Yale University and earning his PhD in 1956 at Johns Hopkins University. At Hopkins, Calhoun studied with the preeminent southern historian, the late C. Vann Woodward. Calhoun’s early interests were in education and the rise of professionalism in the United States. After several temporary teaching posts at Princeton and Columbia Universities, Calhoun was appointed assistant professor of history and education at Harvard University from 1960 until 1966.  He then joined the faculty at UC-Davis, where he taught for 25 years as a specialist in nineteenth-century America and other subjects.  For many years he taught a popular course on violence and law in American Society. For this course, he created his own text that included carefully chosen and edited primary documents.

Calhoun’s first book, The Civil American Engineer: Origins and Conflict, was published in 1960.  He also published Professional Lives in America: Structure and Aspiration, 1750-1850 (1965); The Educating of Americans, A Documentary History (1969); The Intelligence of a People (1973); and a host of articles and reviews. Calhoun received a number of fellowships, including a Guggenheim Award. He was a founding member of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and served as its third president in 1982.  He maintained membership and served on editorial and executive boards of a number of historical organizations, including the Organization for American Historians, the Southern Historical Association,  the Hispanic American Historical Review, and the American Historical Association. 

Daniel Calhoun’s range of scholarly interests comprised broad categories of the history and impact of education systemically and practically: land, labor, race, and conflicts over power—particularly in rural areas. Fundamental to Calhoun’s pursuits of knowledge was a quest for understanding historical change and social justice issues beyond traditional borders, whether national, transnational, or intellectual. His intellectual eclecticism became even more intense in retirement. While at Davis and as professor emeritus he wrote three yet-to-be published manuscripts as well as articles in the Spanish language, which, in his retirement years, he had mastered. In Working Views on the One-Party Road: Pittsburgh and San Francisco, 1860 and 1880 (1986), Calhoun works out a theoretical model for understanding how elites create “democratic” political structures to ensure their privilege and how working people challenge those structures.  In Popular Challenge: Roads Toward Civil War in North America (1995), Calhoun sets out a hemispheric struggle from Central America to the Canadian north: between modernizing and imperialist elites (almost always white) who tirelessly seek land and exploit labor, and the local communities—often of color—who challenge them for power and autonomy. In, “The 47”: American War in Mexico: An Interpretation for the 21st Century (1998), Calhoun places the American War in Mexico within a context of population flow (north, south, and west) and political movements (conservative, modernizing, capitalist, and for local control). The result is to see our own border conflicts in a historical context that remains profoundly relevant some 21 years after Calhoun wrote.

At UC-Davis, Calhoun’s reputation was that of a relentlessly demanding graduate mentor who accepted nothing less than students aspiring to the highest level of rigor. He also respected and encouraged independent thinking and writing. Calhoun enthusiastically promoted his students’ academic advancement, intellectual vision, and activism. He encouraged students to adopt diverse paradigms and to challenge basic assumptions within the historical canon. Calhoun willingly sponsored extra graduate seminars to engage nontraditional topics, events, and issues. His home was sometimes an evening gathering place for free-wheeling enlightening discussions on social theory, critical philosophy, the Frankfurt School, forms of subjectivities and power relations not generally considered germane to American history. Many of his students choose careers in history; others in education and allied professions.

Daniel Hovey Calhoun, born on November 24, 1927, in Brownsville, Tennessee, was the youngest of four children. His father, James, was an educator who spent most of his career involved in Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools, and the family often lived on the school grounds. Calhoun’s mother, Fern Model Calhoun, born and raised in Kansas, was a homemaker who also painted and wrote poetry.  

As a gay man during a time of rising homophobia, Calhoun distanced his personal life from his profession as an historian. Yet he was connected to the Bay Area gay community, and after retirement, that relationship was more fully and openly celebrated. Calhoun traveled widely. He also spoke, read, and wrote in several languages. He maintained an abiding love of the outdoors and, as a Melville devotee, of the sea. For years Daniel Calhoun sailed his own craft in the San Francisco Bay.  As a buff artist, Calhoun often sketched seascapes, which he accompanied with passages from Melville’s Moby Dick.

Some of Daniel Calhoun’s former students became close friends during his retirement years. Thus, to the continuing benefit of Daniel H. Calhoun’s erudition, was added deep affection and the warm extension of his friendship. 

Memorial gifts can be made online to the Daniel H. Calhoun Dissertation Research Award, or via UC Davis Gift Administration, 202 Cousteau Place, Suite 185, Davis, 95618.

—Submitted on behalf of the deceased.

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