Esteemed History Professor On Teaching Hiatus

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UC Berkeley history professor Leon Litwack, who suffered a stroke over the summer, will not be teaching his popular history class for an undetermined amount of time, history department officials said yesterday.

Although the stroke "had no mental effect" on Litwack, it has left him physically impaired, hindering his ability to teach History 7B, said Jon Gjerde, chair of the UC Berkeley history department.

Leon Litwack

But Gjerde said the stroke was "minor" and added Litwack "fully intends" to teach the course after he undergoes physical therapy.

"A full recovery is expected," he said.

Many students praised History 7B, United States history after the Civil War, which consistently enrolls more than 700 students, saying it was a highlight of their academic careers at UC Berkeley.

"His lectures are so refined and sophisticated, with a little bit of humor," said UC Berkeley junior Sabrina Luo. "He speaks so eloquently. He looks so serious, but not only is he very knowledgeable, he's funny too."

The course will be taught by lecturer Charles Postel when it is offered next semester.

"I cannot fill Leon Litwack's shoes," Postel said. "No one can fill Leon Litwack's shoes. I am honored to have the opportunity to try to bring the same enthusiasm and commitment levels to history to undergraduates as he has done."

Postel said he has his own ideas as to how to teach Litwack's class.

"He was a master at teaching history, and I will not try to imitate the master, so it will be my own interpretation," Postel said. "But I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he did with his interpretations, and I will try to incorporate that."

Some seniors said they are upset that they will graduate before Litwack returns and will probably be unable to take History 7B with him.

"He has a really great reputation, and I was thinking about taking one of his classes, and it's a shame that I may never have an opportunity," said Andrew Keating, a senior history major. "A lot of people, when you say you're a history major at Cal, the first thing people ask you is if you've taken a class from him."

Litwack, known for his "revisionist" style of teaching history, "doesn't believe in heroizing historical figures," said history professor Paula Fass.

"That's his style, to challenge orthodoxy," she said. "He doesn't deliver a nationalistic patriotic history. He makes people think."

Litwack has received several national awards for his works, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his study "Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery."

The awards were given in recognition of his "books documenting the written and oral records of the African-American experience in the United States both before and after slavery and in the apartheid South of the early part of the last century," said history professor Diane Clemens in August.

Litwack, who received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at UC Berkeley, was awarded the university's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Some professors said Litwack has had a significant impact not only on his students but on his colleagues as well.

"Leon Litwack was the most devoted teacher I encountered when I first came to Berkeley 28 years ago," Fass said. "He inspired me to think of teaching as equally important to all other aspects of our lives as members of a university (and) scholarly community."


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