Himmelfarb, Gertrude

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HIMMELFARB, GERTRUDE (1922– ), historian of Victorian England. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Max and Bertha (Lerner) Himmelfarb, she received her B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1942 and also attended the Seminary College of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Himmelfarb earned her M.A. in 1944 and her Ph.D. in 1950 at the University of Chicago. Presumably because it was difficult for a married woman with two young children to pursue an active academic career during those years, Himmelfarb was an independent scholar from 1950 to 1965. She became professor of history at Brooklyn College in 1965, teaching there until 1978, when she was named distinguished professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; following her retirement in 1988, she became professor emerita.

Gertrude Himmelfarb devoted her scholarly career to understanding the intellectual foundations of British political culture in the 19th century. A prolific and admired scholar, her books include Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952); Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959); Victorian Minds (1968); On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stewart Mill (1974); The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (1983); Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (1991); and The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (2004). She also published Marriage and Morals among the Victorians: Essays (1986).

In addition to her work on Victorian culture, Himmelfarb addressed contemporary political and cultural issues, criticizing contemporary culture for falling short of the ideals and civic virtues of the Victorian liberals. Her criticism is in line with the conservative political views she shares with her husband, Irving Kristol, and their son William Kristol, likewise important exponents of neo-Conservatism in American politics. Books pointing out the moral failures of contemporary society include On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society (1994); The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (1995); and One Nation, Two Cultures (1999), which calls for a return to such Enlightenment values and Victorian virtues as shame, responsibility, and self-reliance. In The New History and the Old: Critical Essays and Reappraisals (1987; revised edition, 2004), Himmelfarb critiqued social history for its leftist inclinations, its moral relativism, and its aversion to the major political transformations of the past, and argued that post-modernism distorted history and harmed the historical profession.

Himmelfarb was the recipient of many awards and honors. She was a member of the council of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1982; the council of scholars of the Library of Congress from 1984; the board of trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Center in 1985–96; and the council of academic advisors of the American Enterprise Institute from 1987.

[Marsha L Rozenblit (2nd ed.)]