Oscar and Lilian Handlin

Handlins headshot
Oscar Handlin (1915-2011) was born in in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents who came to the United States from Russia. A problematic pupil, he entered Brooklyn College at the age of 15, and three years later, Harvard University to pursue graduate studies in history. His PhD thesis supervisor was Arthur Schlesinger Sr. In 1940 Handlin was appointed instructor at the university, spending his entire academic career at Harvard ever after. In the course of many years he served the university in numerous capacities, retiring finally in 1984 having held two of the institution’s most distinguished appointments — that of Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professorship and subsequently Carl M. Loeb University Professorship. Handlin established his scholarly credentials with the publication of his dissertation in 1941, entitled Boston’s Immigrants 1790-1965, asserting the centrality of immigration to the shaping of American society. The Pulitzer prize winning The Uprooted (1951) enlarged the previous book’s conclusions, detailing the hardships experienced by newcomers to a not always welcoming society. A long life dedicated to scholarship and student mentoring enriched the intellectual lives of Harvard college students. At the same time, Handlin was also instrumental in managing several of Harvard’s institutions and affiliates, and was the founder of the Center for the Study of Liberty in America that later became the Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History. Critical of the immigration laws that governed how newcomers were admitted to the United States, Handlin was also instrumental in abolishing the discriminatory national origins quota system — which eventually contributed to the 1965 passage of the new Immigration and Nationality Act. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lilian Handlin (PhD Hebrew University of Jerusalem, MA Brown University, BA Queens College, City University of New York) was associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1970-77). Her interests focus on the intersection between social history and the history of ideas. She is the author and co-author of several books, including
George Bancroft: Intellectual as Democrat (1984) and Abraham Lincoln and the Union (1980). Her most important publication, collaborated with her husband was the four-volume Liberty in America, 1600 to the Present (1986-1994). She was also responsible for the publication of the second edition of her husband's The Distortion of America (1996). Lilian Handlin's articles and reviews have appeared in several academic and popular journals, including the American Scholar, the New England Quarterly, Perspectives in American History. Most recently she has published a number of articles investigating pre modern Myanmar history, as revealed in the substantial remains of its material culture. Between the 9th and 11th century, a powerful kingdom that called itself Arimadana extended its sovereignty over wide areas in southeast Asia, at a time when its monarchs resided in what later generations called Pukkan, located in upper Burma's dry zone.

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