Thursday, January 15, 2009

Manning the Barricades One Last Time

Does this man not deserve his own Wikipedia entry?

Ever since I first discovered the tubes and piping called the Internets, and with it the invention of Wikipedia, I’ve waited for someone with knowledge of the man to write up an entry for Harvey Goldberg. Is it important to recognize him in this fashion more than two decades after his death? I think so, otherwise why would I bring it up?

Could the oversight be due to the paucity of his published materials? Certainly his politics would not have precluded an entry, nor would the intellectual quality of his lectures. Isn't there one hero worshipper out there who knows enough about the man to write an article? Other immortals from my days as a history student at the University of Wisconsin have their free encyclopedia links: the forever provocative William Appleman Williams, the Arthurian legend George Mosse, and the American icon Merle Curti. So why not Harvey?

Countless other UW-Madison professors are listed amongst the millions of Wikipedia entries, but I sat in on classes with these four. Recurring 60s flashbacks allow for only so many memories about that time on campus. I have been told I did not take any courses with Frederick Jackson Turner.

I entered the University of Wisconsin with one goal in mind: to become a history professor. I dreamt of standing in front of an audience packed solid with adoring students, enthralling them with a masterful presence and a clear certitude of righteousness. My words and phrases would be thundering tours de force, a secular evangelical romp, weaving the intricate fibers of 5,000 years of human inheritance into a crisp 50-minute piece of oral acrobatics.

I fancied myself rushing pell-mell down Bascom Hill, class notes, like my long strands of coal black hair, madly flying in the wind; beautiful acolytes following behind me, retrieving from puddles and snow drifts my discourse for the day. I would overwhelm academia with research of such stunning contrarian insight textbooks would have to be rewritten each time I published my brilliant insights. The world would be at my feet, and I would no longer be addressed by my parents as “Hey You.”

The rest of the time I would kick back and play hearts in the Memorial Union , or drink brew at any one of the dozens of beer joints around the campus, while preparing my thoughts for the next day’s classes. Life would be so sweet I would develop a chronic sugar rush. Then I woke up and discovered it was a dream. I heard Harvey Goldberg throw down a lecture and realized the only part of my fantasy that would come true was the tossing of hearts at 2 AM and the drinking of slosh at the nearest pub. I also remembered my hair was brown.

Goldberg’s grasp of history was so prodigious and his mannerisms so entrancing that even the asbestos flecks that form the foundation of the Humanities Building refused to fall during his lectures. One could imagine Harvey rushing UP the Odessa Steps to confront the Czar's troops; leading the members of the Estates-General into the streets towards the Bastille; manning the Parisian barricades in 1870; taking that fateful bullet in 1914 that would claim the life of Jean Léon Jaurès.

For a quarter of a century, Goldberg's reed thin voice never faltered; he danced out his words from memory, a verbal misstep was as unheard of as a yawn from the audience. He spun rhetorical gold, his oratory soaring over the stellar landscape of the University of Wisconsin History Department, stimulating the standing room only crowds to ponder, if only shortly in their undergraduate lives, the march of the common man over that of common stocks.

Before lunch, we paraded the Parisian streets, rallying against the Bourbon dynasty and the Ancien Regime, an emotional cataclysm made comprehensible even though the names today are better known for flan than for flames. The lives of long dead and all but forgotten men and women crackled with high tension, for individuals, even the most seemingly insignificant, lead and bleed movements. An hour of a mystical Harvey harangue would have turned even the drones, clones and fem-bots at Fox News into the proleteriat, Googling and Mapquesting in search of the closest barricades to man.

My encounter with Professor Goldberg has already been journalized for embarrassing posterity. I have no qualifications to work up a Wikipedia entry for Harvey. My skills are limited to doing dishes once every three months and signaling when I turn right at a red light. I would hope that one of his grad students or a current professor who worked a PhD under the Master would think Harvey worthy of such an entry.

Who knows, perhaps in the future some kid looking for a plastic surgeon or a podiatrist or a brain specialist stumbles instead onto the Goldberg Wikipedia article and rummages around long enough to click onto the Harvey Goldberg Center link. This could lead a future scholar into a world where teaching became more than a dry syllabus full of irrelevant facts and unremembered figures.

Harvey Goldberg and George Mosse discussing Marxism and Fascism for all eternity at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Note: The above photographs were taken at my behest in 40 degrees below zero temperatures by one of Madison's top bloggers and the class historian of the late and much missed Madison Central High School. She had the wherewithal to e-mail me the pictures before wandering off into the snow drifts, muttering something about "Fugu for Foodies." She was last seen between the Conrad Elvehjem marker and that of John "Snowball" Riley. Only the spring thaw will give us the truth.


  1. Sidney, write it yourself! Ok, your prose is too purple, perhaps, but with a little discipline, you could create the bare bones. Don't you get how Wikipedia entries come into being? Someone starts an article, others improve and expand it. SO START ALREADY!

  2. Snella, you never liked me even in high school. I wanted someone who really knew the Professor and not some slobbering fan such as myself. That sort of Us Weekly bilge infects far too many of the Wikipedia articles already.

  3. Sidney,in 1964 I signed up to take French Revolution with Harvey Goldberg because someone had told me he re-enacted the storming of the Bastille by climbing on his desk. On the first day of class, he announced he was tired of teaching the French Revolution so the course would be on World Revolutions. It was the most memorable and politically pivotal course of my career. Forty years later I have become a professor in France, and I always write the initials "HG" on my whiteboard, a reminder of the kind of teaching standards I strive to reach.

    There is a huge Harvey Goldberg fan club out there. The only one I know who actually knew HG personally is Michael Bingham, part of our Paris UW alumni group. He could certainly give you the basic information for a Wikipedia article. What a great idea! Thank you for thinking of it, for your article and for the wonderful photos.


  4. No, thank you for your comments, but I am definitely not equipped to give the man a balanced entry. It would end up reading like most of my posts that ramble off down twisting cul-de sacs (the only French word I know other than crepe)looking for a semi-decent punch line. No we need a professional to do the job correctly.

  5. Sidney, I only know of you by reputation - I work for Gary Sandefur (Letters & Science dean) and with Anne Lucke. Found your blog when I was doing some research. It took a moment to realize that I was looking at Harvey's gravestone. When I figured it out, I just beamed. Harvey was a friend during my undergrad and early grad school years at Madison (I was an Americanist).

    A year or so ago, I was looking for a usable picture of Harvey for the Letters & Science alumni newsletter and Anne Lucke connected me with Prior Dodge. He has some GREAT images, should you or another put the wiki entry together. I still hear his voice in my head when I go into 3650 humanities.

    All the best, Lucy Mathiak

    PS it is really mean to post the LA and Madison temperatures side by side...

  6. Bruce Lee LivingstonJanuary 31, 2010 at 6:00 PM


    I lived with Harvey 75-77 and also am in touch with old friends Lucy Mathiak and Michael Bingham via Facebook. Michael now owns Harvey's old Parisian condo at 13, rue du Pont-aux-Choux, just off Boulevard Beaumarchais -- close to the place de la Bastille.

    I don't know how to really enter the vicious world of Wikipedia, but it seems the former front page editor of the Capital Times would be helpful, Ron McCrea who is still working in Madison. Chip (Charles) Sowerwine is an old fried/colleague of Harvey's in Australia, and Jean Chesnaux in Paris.

    Also, there is a small HG Facebook site called "I have history with Harvey Goldberg." Keep me in touch, I might have some color photos. Bruce Lee Livingston

  7. I was an undergraduate at The Ohio State University in 1958-62. I took every course HG taught. He has been my inspiration for understanding modern history. His course, The Rise of Liberalism, is the most logical presentation of political economy that I know. I refer to it for my further education and reading over and over. The classroom in University Hall, OSU was overflowing on the day HG stormed the Bastille, SRO!
    He also delivered a State of the Union at the student union which was also a wonder. He was too big for OSU and I am sorry we lost him to a more deserving department.
    In recent times , I have met some near relatives in the Cambridge era and they are academics from the sciences and psychology, who knew HG. I am saddened to know that he was cut short at 65 , I would have liked some more of HG.

  8. I was an undergraduate at OSU, 1958-1962, and took every undergrad course that HG offered. He was everything you have said in his presentation and knowledge. His course, The Rise of Liberalism, is the most lucid and logical history of modern political economy that I know. It is my underpinning for many discussions and researches into current political economy. There was SRO in University Hall when HG stormed the Bastille. It was as if you were watching the real event. He was a good grader as well, I have A's in all his courses and I was not a disciplined 19 year old. His grades reflect his inspiring teaching.
    He also did a State of the Union speech in the Student Union. Did he do that at Madison? Harvey was too big and leftist for the OSU campus and we lost him , true to say,to a more deserving department.
    I am happy to find him finally, again. I am sorry his life was short but he left eons of inspiration.