L. Carl Brown, the Garrett Professor in Foreign Affairs, Emeritus; Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, died April 8, 2020
L. Carl Brown, the Garrett Professor in Foreign Affairs, Emeritus; Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, died April 8, 2020
I remember Carl Brown as a lucid lecturer and a caring adviser during my days as a very callow Harvard graduate student.
Carl Brown was a true gentleman and a true scholar; an antithesis of intellectual humbug.
A great loss. He was my undergraduate tutor at Harvard. The first book he told me to read was E.G. Browne’s “A Year Amongst the Persians”. Everything started from there.
I remember taking Carl’s course on North African history in, I think, 1963. First time he taught it at Harvard. I would see him in the evening before class in the Widener reading room perusing the Encyclopedia of Islam for info on one or another medieval dynasty to prepare for the next day’s lecture. Fifteen years later I was doing the same thing to introduce the course at Columbia. Only then did I realize what a difficult task Carl had undertaken, and what a good job he had done with it.
He was a multi generational friend of my family’s, and a neihgbor who I have known since childhood. He was always thoughtful, never self promotional, a true gentlemen of the old school. He will be missed.
Even now, I can hear Carl’s distinctive voice ringing in my head like the reverberations of a bell that fallen silent. “Bourguiba let me down!” The failings of Middle Eastern leaders were very personal to Carl — as if they borrowed money from him and never paid it back.
Carl was my advisor. I loved him. Less as his advisee and ever more as I grew older and wiser. He was a very good man: fair, honest, and conscientious. He held himself to the same standards he held everyone else. He retired at age 65. There was no longer a mandatory retirement age, but he felt that it was the right thing to do. When Princeton had originally given him tenure, the retirement age was 65. He thought it was unethical to break the contract just because the law had changed.
I studied at Princeton when he was the head of the Program and Avrom Udovitch was head of the Department. Looking back, that was a fantastic era. Being young and stupid, and I didn’t fully realize just how privileged I was to be walking the halls with the likes of Bernard Lewis, Charles Issawi and Michael Cook. Carl and Avrom were an odd couple, the Felix Unger and Oscar Madison of academia. But together they built the greatest Middle East Studies center in the world. Years later Carl would say to me, “I wrote memo after memo that Avrom never read. He ran circles around me. It would irritate me, but I never let it bother me too much, because I always knew that Avrom wanted to build a great Department.”
I owe him an enormous amount. He gave me unfailingly good advice, and I wish I had listened to more of it. My deepest condolences to the family. May it console them that his was a life very well lived.
I met him many years ago when I had an Ottoman Studies fellowship at Princeton, and he made me feel so welcome while I was there. I still assign much of his
Imperial Legacy: The Ottoman Imprint on the Middle East and the Balkans
in my Ottoman and modern Middle East classes. RIP Dr Brown.
I had the privilege of being a student of Carl Brown first at Harvard and later at Princeton, where I wrote a dissertation on his beloved Tunisia. He was unfailingly helpful and insightful in guiding my research. It is an honor to have known this outstanding scholar.
Carl and I were students together. Very few might now be able to say that, so I treat it as a particular badge of honor. In my second year at Princeton he and I took Intermediate Turkish together, every weekday morning at 9:00 in Carl’s office. We had a brilliant teacher, the ever-genial Cemal Kafadar, who I suppose is a member of a now even more exclusive club, of Carl’s teachers. We had a great time.
I entered grad school with no intention of pursuing an academic career; that I became an academic was largely thanks to Carl. Part of that influence was a simple matter of intellectual encouragement: he was genuinely interested in a very broad range of topics, but he was always ready to write and talk about issues of high and low politics that had long interested me but seemed to me to be falling out of fashion in the history field. His interests deepened, and broadened, mine–indeed it was Carl who first pushed me to think about studying the Ottoman period, which I had never had any inclination to do. He encouraged NES Program students to think broadly about possible careers, and for me that push meant considering academia more seriously. I repaid his kind encouragement badly, though, as I’m sure he would have published far more than he did, had he not spent so much of his life writing references for me.
But what made him such a superb teacher and supervisor, in my view, was his skill in getting the best out of students. He had an excellent sense of when to push them (and how hard), and when to give them a bit more space. Through close questioning, and equally close attention in listening, he gauged pretty well what our strengths and weaknesses were, and in guiding us he appreciated, would play to, our strengths, while also trying to help us grapple with our weaknesses. As a result, he worked very successfully with students from a range of backgrounds, with different skills, and certainly with views covering just about every conceivable point of the political spectrum–and that he didn’t try to impose his own views on any of us almost goes without saying, but still I think deserves recognition. He mentioned former students frequently, and I never heard from him anything but praise for them. Carl was not just an effective supervisor, he was a truly generous one.
Perhaps one of the things that made Carl so effective, at least in my experience of studying with him, was his ability to keep people slightly off-balance. If he couldn’t get through one way, he could in another. He was direct and no-nonsense, but also folksy. He was a proud product of Kentucky (he liked Jimmy Carter because “he was the only president who didn’t talk funny”), but he told students to “be from Missouri” (“show me the evidence!”). There was a certain air of gentlemanly reserve (I found it very difficult to shift to addressing him as Carl after years of calling him Professor Brown), but he occasionally blindsided me with a (mildly) risque joke. My one-on-one meetings with him were usually short, but they were never predictable, and I always came away with an unexpected idea or piece of advice. With such help, of course I had to finish the degree and, armed with lots of further helpful advice from Carl, my ‘Doktorvater’, and my ‘rabbi’ (Norman Itzkowitz), I set out along that path I had not intended to take.
I am deeply saddened by the news of Carl’s passing and send my condolences to his family. May it offer them some consolation to know that there is a much wider intellectual ‘family’ of former students (and classmates!) whom he helped to shape who also mourn his loss.
My wife and I first met Carl and Anne some 30 years ago at Cayuga Lake near Ithaca, New York where his son Win and our daughter Randi were attending Cornell University. It was the occasion of Win and Randi’s engagement and this was to be the “big meeting” of the parents. The location was a picnic spot overlooking the lake and Jackie and I arrived a bit late. As we approached, Carl said “It looks like you are here to check us out and we are here to check you out”, an example of his wit and charm and perfectly designed to put all of us at ease. Carl was devoted to Win and Randi and to our grandchildren and their education and they responded in kind. I was lucky to have him as a co-grandfather.
Carl was in my introductory Turkish class, my first class at Princeton in 1984-1985. He was was a very determined student but eventually wrote to explain that he could not keep up because of – well, because of all the other things he was taking care of. All along, he was insistent that language learning was an essential component of the Department. He was very supportive of my efforts throughout the years for which I was always very grateful.
A wonderful gentleman – may he rest in peace.
Professor Brown’s works on Tunisian History are priceless, may he rest in peace.
Carl and I both arrived in Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies Department in the fall of 1968. It was my colossal good fortune to have him take me on as an advisee, knowing that my undergraduate career had included no training in the field on which I was now embarking. Perhaps he saw me as a challenge. He placed me in both his undergraduate Modern Middle East course and its counterpart Modern North Africa. In them, I encountered a field I barely knew existed, but one that I enthusiastically embraced, in no small part owing to the precision, clarity, and gravity of those courses. I still have the U-Store notebooks I used in them which, with many updates and revisions) bearing in mind Carl’s contempt for “old yellowed notepads”) became the foundations of courses that I taught over the next four decades.
In his graduate reading and writing seminars, Carl was an exacting taskmaster. He did not hesitate to convey his frank, sometimes brutal assessment if one fell short of the mark, but he was generous in offering suggestions to prevent keep such an outcome from becoming habitual. The years that I spent under his tutelage taught me volumes about the Middle East and North Africa, but, perhaps more importantly, they taught me how to be a responsible member of the profession. I was unaware as a student how influential he had been in the early days of MESA, but later, when he was engaged in a similar role in AIMS, I did have a front row seat and better understood how dedicated and critical to the organization he was. Carl Brown was my mentor, friend, colleague, and occasionally my squash opponent. For all that, and more, I will always remember him with affection and respect.
I was a graduate student in the Near Eastern Studies Department in the 1980s. Having fled the modern Middle East quite soon after my arrival at Princeton, I’m not sure I had a class with Carl Brown, but he was such a constant presence in Jones Hall and at departmental events, that it was impossible not to know him, and he took care to know the graduate students. “Constant” may best describe my enduring impression of Professor Brown: attentive to his role as NES Program chair; conscious of the message contained in his regular and visible presence in Jones Hall and on campus; dedicated to scholarship and training the next generation; focused on the person or project in front of him. And a gentlemen, who set a very high bar for common courtesy and polite communication. The memory of him that I cherish the most comes from only about ten years ago, when I last saw him, nearly colliding with him deep underground on C floor of Firestone Library. He had a bulky looking knapsack on his back, stopped to chat only briefly and seemed not surprised that we should have met down there, then apologized that he had limited time to be collecting some materials for his immediate research, and disappeared into the stacks with the intense and happy concentration of a graduate student. What a privilege to have known him!
I met Professor Brown when I was a first-year PhD student in History at Princeton, and took a seminar with him on modern Middle Eastern history. He had a lasting impact on my scholarship and on my professional approach to the field. He had an iconoclastic streak and respected different points of view, even when we challenged the interpretations of some of the most influential scholars in the field – including one who had an office right down the hall….
Earlier this month, before I heard the news about Professor Brown’s passing, the students in my North Africa history seminar at Penn read his article entitled, “The United States and the Maghrib,” which appeared in The Middle East Journal in 1976. I discovered the article two years ago – the last time I taught this class – and it turned out to be the surprise-hit reading of the semester, so I brought it back, to students’ acclaim! This article, which he wrote for the U.S. bicentennial, is very funny in parts, and touches on popular culture (e.g., “the eminently forgettable” U.S. World War II-era ditty called “Dirty Gertie from Bizerte”) while focusing primarily on diplomatic history. If you want to see Brown’s distinct combination of wit and sharp analysis in action, or if you are just looking for something accessible and engaging to assign to students about U.S.-Maghrib relations, I thoroughly recommend this article. It counts as an “oldie but a goodie”!
Professor Brown was always recommending worthy books to read, and some of his suggestions are still on my mental to-do list. For example, he often mentioned George Rude’s “The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, 1730-1848”. He mentioned Herbert Butterfield, a lot, too – the Whig interpretation of history and so forth!
Professor Brown may have retired at 65 (as Mike Doran mentioned in his tribute), feeling perhaps that it was right to make way for younger scholars, but he remained active long after that, in part as a Middle East book review editor for Foreign Affairs. He read so darn much; even now, it leaves me exhausted and impressed just to think about it! He also taught occasional classes at Princeton long after his retirement. I last saw him in October 2013 when he invited me to speak to his freshman seminar. By that time, he must have been 84, and he and his wife were packing up to move to Maryland….
My sense of gratitude to Professor Brown has only deepened over the years. He was a role model in his scholarship and teaching – so impeccably professional – and he gave steadfast support in recommendation letters when I was applying for jobs. Recalling his example, I have tried to “pay it forward” in the way I support my own students and colleagues.
Many have commented on Professor Brown’s folksy Kentucky mannerisms. I still laugh thinking about the time when, at a brown bag talk in Jones Hall, he compared what we were all doing to attending a church picnic. I watched as Bernard Lewis’s eyebrows shot up in amazement; I could practically see Lewis struggling to imagine us all at that picnic!
I was very sorry to learn of Professor Brown’s passing. I remember very well the day I took the train from New York City to meet with him about graduate school In 1983. He learned that I had done my undergraduate work in History at Boston College, and based on his interactions with Jesuits who studied with him at Harvard, he was sure that I was well prepared for the Masters Program in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. I too was there in the 1980s, and write my thesis on the first ten years of the Jesuit mission to Iraq under his direction and the careful eye of Charles Issawi, too. I’ll always be grateful for Prof. Brown’s support and guidance at Princeton and as I went on for the Ph.D. in History and later entered government service, too. He urged us to use good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon vocabulary in our writing, and to avoid the perils of advocacy scholarship. Always a true gentleman, he was laser focused on the beauty and merits of scholarship and the wellbeing of his students. I’m grateful to have known him. My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. May he Rest In Peace.
I just learned of Professor Brown’s passing and want to convey my condolences to his family. I was privileged to work for and with him for approximately 20 years. It was an amazing experience to work alongside an amazing scholar, but more importantly, an amazing man.
I first met L. Carl Brown shortly before coming to Princeton in 1971 to start a Ph.D. program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. He was generous with his time and knowledge and I very much admired his skill as a lecturer for undergraduates. He later asked me to be a preceptor in two of his courses and I learned much from the experience. Prof. Brown served as second reader on my thesis and I very much appreciated his comments and suggestions. We stayed in touch over the years, and in the 1990’s he invited me to collaborate by contributing to three collections of essays. In recent years I lost touch. To his family, my deepest sympathies.
Somehow I found out only today, at the Middle East Studies Association business meeting, that Professor Brown had passed away. He was a fixture in Princeton’s Dept. of Near Eastern Studies when I was getting my Ph.D. there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was not my advisor or on my committee, but I was once a preceptor for his undergraduate survey of the modern Middle East. The course was a model of careful preparation, and Prof. Brown’s lectures were stimulating and memorable, with the occasional touch of dry humor (of the Ottomans’ decision to ally with the Central Powers in World War I, he remarked, “Doggone it, they always seemed to pick the wrong side!”). The students loved his lectures and appreciated the fact that he treated them as adults, starting each lecture with “I hope you read this morning’s New York Times.” When I went on the job market, I asked him to read my cover letter since, as I wrote in my note, “You are the most organized person in the department.” His advice was always timely, to the point, and much appreciated.
Carl Brown was old school in the best sense of the term: erudite, conscientious, respectful and courteous toward all. Though he retired many years ago, it’s rather hard to imagine Princeton NES without him. My sincere condolences to his family and many former students, and my apologies for my tardiness in noting his passing.
Dick Macken, Dick Bulliet, Karl Barbir, Ken Perkins…I join you and all the others, belatedly (6/14/22) on this most appropriate Flag Day, in mourning the loss of a fantastic person, a thorough scholar, and a brilliant advisor, whose most important advice item I failed to follow and is now among the many regrets that growing up affords. (I do not see Bill Quandt’s name listed here, but it has probably been redacted.) Be well, all, and join me in the memories that keep Professor Brown alive in our hearts and minds. Allah rahmet eylesin, as they would have said in the Empire, and may he rest in the peace some day for which he always worked and hoped would be.