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Sacvan Bercovitch ’57

Sacvan Bercovitch ’57, December 9, 2014, in Brookline, Massachusetts, from cancer. Prominent author and literary scholar Sacvan came to Reed from the New School for Social Research in New York, leaving the college after a year to join a kibbutz as a dairy farmer in Israel. “He was an amazing scholar and a very kind human being,” writes Prof. Laura Arnold Leibman [English 1995–]. He has been called “his generation’s foremost scholar of Puritan America and of the cultural echoes that puritanism bequeathed to modernity,” as well as “the last of the great American studies scholars.” Sacvan was born in Montreal, the son of socialist immigrants from the Ukraine—his mother had been wounded while serving with the Red Army—and his name was chosen to honor Italian-born anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. After time spent in the kibbutz, Sacvan returned to Montreal with his first wife, and worked at a grocery to fund night school classes at Sir George Williams College (University). He completed an undergraduate degree in 1961 and earned a PhD from Claremont Graduate School in English in 1965. He taught at Columbia, Brandeis, and UC San Diego before joining the faculty at Harvard College. From 1983 until his retirement in 2000, Sacvan was the Charles H. Carswell Professor of English and American Literature and Language. He also held a parallel appointment in comparative literature, recognizing his work as a translator and champion of Yiddish literature. He retired as the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature, Emeritus. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, president of the American Studies Association, and general editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature. He received the 2007 Bode-Pearson Prize for outstanding contributions to American studies. The author of numerous books and essays, his book The Puritan Origins of the American Self is considered his most influential work. Survivors include his wife of 26 years, Susan L. Mizruchi; two sons and two sisters.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2015

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