The Board of Trustees recently confirmed Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman, both professors of history, as Distinguished Professors. The title is bestowed upon tenured professors who have received national and international recognition in scholarship in their academic field.
“Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman are extraordinary scholars, brilliant teachers, and—each in his own way—lifelong advocates for social justice,” says College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr. “I can think of no one at this great university that more thoroughly exemplifies our core values.”
“AU reserves this recognition for only a very few faculty, those whose scholarship has, over the long arc of their careers, been so deeply influential that it has remade their fields of knowledge. This rings true for both Distinguished Professors Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman,” says Pamela Nadell, chair of the Department of History. “The Department of History celebrates their appointments, and takes great pride in becoming what will be the only department on campus with two Distinguished Professors.”
For Breitman, being named a Distinguished Professor means he can focus more on his research. “I teach a little less and I’m a little freer to explore things on my own,” he says.
Lichtman is honored by his appointment, and hopes that he inspires younger scholars at AU. “For me, it is a culmination of 38 years of hard work and service at AU,” he says. “I have endeavored to contribute to the worlds of ideas and actions, to convey knowledge and understanding to nearly two generations of students, and to uphold the ideals of our very special university.”
While at AU, Lichtman has written numerous books, including five editions of his critically acclaimed The Keys to the White House, detailing his system for predicting and explaining American presidential election results. Using his election formula, he has correctly chosen the winners of every presidential election since Ronald Reagan’s reelection in 1984. The formula can be applied to wins before that as well. “The keys account retrospectively for the results of every presidential election from 1860 to 1980,” says Lichtman. His most recent book, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.
Lichtman is a pioneer on the AU campus. He was the founding director of the University Honors Program and was the first to teach the Honors Seminar in U.S. Presidential Elections. He led the way teaching courses on women’s history in the Twentieth Century and Women in Politics in the Twentieth Century. He has since taught many other new classes including The Living Past, a course designed to introduce students to the excitement and relevance of historical study. He serves as advisor to PhD students.
A central figure in public affairs, Lichtman provides regular political commentary on NBC, CNN, VOA, and numerous U.S. and foreign networks. He is also frequently interviewed by the print media. He has served as an expert witness in numerous landmark voting and civil rights cases. “My goal has been to fulfill the mission of the university through public engagement and public service,” he says.
When Breitman came to teach at AU, then department chair David Brandenberg told him he could teach anything he wanted as long as he could get students, but with one exception: he had to teach a course on Nazi Germany. Breitman wasn’t too pleased about the requirement—he was interested in Weimar Germany, the period before the Nazis came to power, but not Nazi Germany itself. “It was very depressing and psychologically difficult,” he says.
During his research for his future class, however, something struck him. “As I was reading the literature about Nazi Germany, I became aware of some controversies and gaps,” says Breitman. He began visiting the National Archives, which has a substantial collection of material related to Nazi Germany, and ended up writing a book, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945, about American policy and reactions to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust with Professor Alan Kraut.
But his research didn’t stop there. “Along the way, I encountered a mystery about a German industrialist who had leaked information about Nazi plans during the war,” Breitman explains. “That he had done so was known, but his identity was not. Using my growing knowledge of the National Archives, I was able to solve the mystery.”
His discovery led to another book, written with world famous scholar Walter Laqueur, called Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew. At this point, there was no turning back. “Now I was stuck deeply in the middle of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and I figured I might as well go all in,” he says. He went on to author a book on his own, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution.
In his research for the book on Heinrich Himmler, Breitman filed a number of Freedom of Information Act requests and was able to persuade the National Security Agency to declassify 1.2 million pages of records. He was later hired as director of historical research for the Nazi War Criminal Records and Imperial Japanese Records Interagency Group, which was created when Congress passed the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act in 1998, and helped declassify approximately 9 million pages of government records.
When Breitman was working with Kraut on their American policy book, he came across research about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I became convinced that I knew this stuff as well as anybody did and that there was more material available than some of the early studies had used,” says Breitman. “I wanted a different angle.” On the suggestion of a friend, Brietman’s new book goes back to Roosevelt’s childhood in order to get the full picture of the eventual president.
“I’m not trained as an American historian,” says Breitman. “I asked my friend and colleague Allan Lichtman if he’d be interested in doing a coauthored study, and he came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea.”
The book rejects the black-and-white opinions that Roosevelt was either a hero or a villain to the Jews. “We trace the real story of how FDR navigated his way through conflicting priorities and pressures,” says Lichtman. “We conclude that he certainly could have done more for the Jews, but that he still did more than any other world leader of his time.”
Harvard University Press will publish Breitman and Lichtman’s book in spring of 2013.