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Northeastern remembers Gerald Herman, alumnus and longtime history professor

Gerald Herman, second from the right, received the inaugural Gerald Herman Shared Governance and Leadership Award at a Faculty Senate meeting in April 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Gerald Herman, a revered member of the Northeastern community for 50 years, died last week at the age of 73 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

A Northeastern alumnus and professor emeritus of history, Herman dedicated his career to serving students, faculty, and staff in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. In addition to teaching more than 40 unique courses, he served on the Faculty Senate for more than 20 years, directed the erstwhile Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and helped launch Northeastern’s annual Holocaust Awareness Week. Among his many other administrative roles, he served for varying lengths of time as copyright officer, handbooks coordinator, and special assistant to the provost.

Friends and former colleagues remembered Herman as a “brilliant” man with boundless generosity, encyclopedic knowledge of Northeastern, and an unparalleled passion to serve. “There’s no question about the fact that he did more to serve Northeastern than any other person I’ve ever known,” said Raymond Robinson, a longtime history professor who knew Herman for more than 50 years and counted him among his closest friends.

At a Faculty Senate meeting in April, Herman received the Gerald Herman Shared Governance and Leadership Award. He was the first recipient of what is expected to be an annual award to honor a faculty member who, like Herman, has provided exceptional leadership and collaborative qualities throughout his or her tenure at the university.

“My life has been committed to seeing the university as a partnership. It works best when we work together,” Herman said at the time. “For all my years on the Faculty Senate, my goal was to ensure that we were all student-oriented and concerned with building the best community we could. I’m terribly moved by this award.”

‘A superior student’

Herman was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. He received his bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Hunter College in 1965 and his master’s degree in history from Northeastern in 1967. His master’s thesis was titled, “The Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns in Seventeenth Century France as a Second Renaissance.”

Robinson and Herman met in 1965, when Robinson was chair of the Department of History and Herman enrolled in his “American Historiography” course. “It didn’t take long for any of his professors to realize that he was brilliant,” recalled Robinson, who retired from Northeastern in 2012 following 57 years of service to the university. “The way he answered questions in class and wrote papers—it was very clear to all of us that he was a superior student.”

A distinguished academic career

Robinson hired Herman as a history instructor in 1967, shortly after he had earned his master’s degree. He received tenure in 1973 and held the title of assistant professor of history until retiring in 2015. His research focused on European cultural and intellectual history, with a particular focus on the relationship between the arts and the sciences.

He served as a member of two-dozen professional associations, from the Society for Historical Education to the American Film Institute, and published papers in several prestigious journals, including Film and History and Public Historian. He authored The Pivotal Conflict: A Chronological History of World War I, co-edited From the Protocols of Zion to Holocaust Denial Trials: Challenging the Media, the Law and the Academy, and contributed chapters to several books, including Hollywood’s World War I: Motion Picture Images and The Craft of Public History.

In the 1970s, Herman became one of the country’s first college professors to teach the Holocaust. His interest in the Holocaust stemmed from his wife, Jackie, who was born in Belgium shortly after it was liberated from the Nazis. As a 2012 profile of Herman explained, Jackie’s Jewish parents had spent World War II in hiding, emigrated to the U.S. in 1950, and eventually settled on Coney Island. Herman, the Brooklyn native, lived pretty close to his future wife and in-laws. “We spent our teenage years by the ocean,” he recalled, “eating Nathan’s hot dogs and enjoying ourselves.”

As a faculty member, Herman served on the Holocaust Awareness Committee from 1983 to 2013 and worked hard to expand the Jewish Studies program. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, he collaborated with then-director Debra Kaufman to secure funding for a major Jewish Studies lecture while increasing the program’s course offerings. Herman’s own teaching reflected his interest in World War II. Among the many courses he taught were “Genocide,” “War and Memory in the 20th Century,” and “20th Century Europe,” which included units on the origins of World War II and the Holocaust.

Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor and director of the Jewish Studies program, described Herman as a “generous and warm colleague” with a “big heart and strong values that informed his teaching both in and out of the classroom.”

“The Jewish Studies faculty are grateful for his contributions to founding and sustaining the program,” she said. “The world is diminished by his death.”

‘A wise man’

Herman served on the Faculty Senate for 27 nonconsecutive years, from 1974 to 2013. During that span, he chaired 10 different committees, including those on academic support services, institutional management, and faculty development.

Louis Kruger, associate professor of applied psychology and chair of the Senate Agenda Committee from 2010 to 2012, called Herman a “wise man” and a “wonderful citizen of the university.”

Both Kruger and Herman commuted by train from Norwood, Massachusetts, and frequently talked shop on the ride to work. As Senate Agenda Committee chair, Kruger often sought advice from Herman, who routinely imparted nuggets of wisdom about the Faculty Handbook. “His generosity in helping members of the Northeastern community knew no bounds,” Kruger said. “He had a wealth of knowledge about the institution and its practices.”

He added: “Gerry never said ‘no’ if you needed help. More than anyone else at Northeastern, it was the variety of ways in which he contributed to making Northeastern better that made him special.”

Herman is survived by his wife, Jackie; his brother, Richard; his two daughters, Lauren and Tara; and his three grandchildren, Kiran, Maya, and Mylo.