Friday, July 02, 2004

I can't quite resist blogging on this Isaiah Berlin non-story, which I've seen via Crooked Timber (follow the links to the original source and full thing) (I missed it when it first hit the blogosphere because, appropriately enough, I was in Riga, Berlin's birthplace, where among other things I saw the very nice apartment house in which Berlin was born -- Berlin's father was indeed a succesful timber merchant, though not, as the story claims, a great con man [indeed, he was apparently a very sweet, guileless man]).
I've posted some comments over at Crooked Timber (the comments section is somewhat worth reading, by the way, mainly for Ophelia Benson's posts, which manage to be a good deal funnier than that which inspired them), so I won't belabour the point (or those poor credulous souls who didn't realise the story was an obvious, if not obviously funny, stab at humour). One additional thing to mention, though, about the question of doctorates and Oxford. As some commentators at Crooked Timber note, having a PhD (or, as they call them here and at Sussex, a DPhil) was not considered necessary to an academic career in Britain when Berlin was a young man. Nor indeed was it considered necessary until some time in the '60s or '70s. Almost no-one at Oxford who had been an undergraduate there studied for the DPhil back then -- the degree was more or less created for students coming to do graduate work from other countries (mainly Americans), and was not much esteemed by those in the know. Berlin did eventually get a number of doctorates, though only honourary ones (from places of such dubious academic merit as Harvard, Yale, and Jerusalem).
This odd little episode does happen to dovetail with the work I've been doing over the past couple of terms on Berlin's career and thought in the 1930s. These are not as 'enigmatic' as the piece suggests -- the evidence is there for all to see, especially with the recent publication of Berlin's letters from the period, with scrupulous and exhaustively detailed notes by Henry Hardy -- but if anyone's curious about it, or in doubt as to what Berlin was doing and thinking at that point -- I'm more than happy to help sort it out.
And with that shameful self-promotion, back to the actual work on Berlin ...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?