Historian Gets Rock Star Treatment at MHS

by Lauren Strausser

(April 12, 2007) Rock star is not usually the term associated with a renowned historian, but Professor Alan Brinkley of Columbia University received a taste of celebrity treatment at Mamaroneck High School on March 20. In a show of appreciation for the author of their textbook (American History; A Survey), the American History Advanced Placement students made and wore t-shirts celebrating Dr. Brinkley’s arrival for a lecture on the Harlem Renaissance.

MHS students greeted historian Brinkley wearing the "fan" t-shirts they had designed.

Professor Brinkley’s lecture was the third installment in a series focusing on African-Americans in United States history, which was funded by a grant from the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation.

The idea for the grant originated with MHS Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner. "Mrs. Kleiner approached me and asked if I would be interested in bringing historians to the high school,” said Elizabeth Clain, head of the Social Studies Department. Ms. Clain and three of her colleagues had attended a summer program run by the Gilder Lehrman Institute where they met several esteemed historians. Through contacts made there, the history enthusiasts of MHS have now been treated to the thoughts and musings of Professor Brinkley, James and Lois Horton, and Eric Foner. (See: Foremost Expert on Reconstruction at MHS.)

Professor Brinkley’s lecture evoked the era, between 1920 and the mid 1930's when African Americans centered in Harlem generated a high level of literature and art. He celebrated the lead figures of the movement: Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Duke Ellington, and others. Race and racial identity were important themes.

“He spoke about the story behind the Harlem Renaissance, and how history is actually a chain of events,” explained a student impressed that “Professor Brinkley talked about more than just facts.”

Another student remarked, “It was neat to realize the connection between a book that we spend so much time learning from and its author. To give all of the facts a voice made the information that much more real and relevant to how it affects us today."

After the lecture, twenty students and the three AP teachers ate lunch with Professor Brinkley. During the luncheon teachers and students alike picked the professor's brains. Questions ranged from why he had chosen to write a textbook (it was an excellent opportunity for an historian fresh from graduate school) to who was his favorite president ( Abraham Lincoln).

As one student said, "Listening to and having lunch with Professor Brinkley was a memorable experience because it really allowed me to see an aspect of American History through an historian's eyes."

Lauren Strausser is a junior at Mamaroneck High School and serves as a liaison to the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation, a volunteer organization that provides public schools in Larchmont and Mamaroneck with funds for innovative programs beyond the scope of the regular school budget. The Foundation can be reached at (914) 698-9079, or visit its website at MamaroneckSchoolsFoundation.com