These stories may have appeared elsewhere in comments I’ve made, but why not pull them into a posting of their own?
My dad’s an (emeritus) history professor, who was the department chair at Johns Hopkins for a bunch of years. My sister and I grew up in the academic whirl, which is a slow whirl mostly consisting of fascinating people, interesting conversations, tall stories, and alcohol. Lots of alcohol.
As a kid one of my favorite professors was J.G.A. Pocock (who had 2 other boy kids who were cool to hang out with) – never mind the fact that he wrote a great history of Machiavelli and Florentine political thought [mm] Pockock could free translate between English, Old Norse, and Latin. He could also drink a great deal of wine. That’s not a criticism – it never seemed to incapacitate or hardly affect him – but his fondness for the stuff was a source of amazement for us kids. Mostly, my favorite thing was to try to get him to read the scenes from the Battle of Pelenor Fields in The Lord of The Rings in Norse, bardic-style. I wish I had a recording of that. But it’s hard, when you’re a kid, to put someone like that on the spot.
When The Machiavellian Moment was published, dad had a party, and sent out invitations that read “The Moment Has Come!” which we printed on the small letter-press down in the basement. My dad’s many interests, and willingness to charge off and learn odd skills (like printing with movable type and building our own print-shop) did a lot to encourage me to do likewise. It’s a behavior some people find odd but it has always been as natural to me as breathing.
Anyway, my dad told me a tale of one of his Hopkins colleagues, who taught American History (probably Jack P. Greene) who had a Chinese grad student. The professor, one day, asked the student “What sparked your interest in American history?” and the student thought for a few seconds before replying, “I am lazy.” And subtle.
Another time my dad told of a professor (it may have been him) who was invited to speak at the Political Science department at Cambridge. During the introduction, the department chairman began with, “The ‘American Experiment’ is one that we at the Political Science Department, here, have watched since its inception…” (boom!)
Dad often used to say “the fights in academia are so fierce because there is so little at stake.” I’m sure that’s not one of his, but he used it often, which led me to grow up thinking that a history department was a doom-filled valley of backstabbing machiavellians versus norse warriors who liked chanting advertisements from The Wall Street Journal as they marched into battle.