Borg, Dorothy (1901–1993)

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Borg, Dorothy (1901–1993)

American historian of modern East Asia and defender of academic freedom during the McCarthy era. Born in Elberon, New Jersey, on September 4, 1901; died in New York City in October 1993; daughter of Sidney C. and Madeleine (Beer) Borg; graduated from Wellesley College; graduated Columbia University, A.M., Ph.D.

Studied in China (1940s); helped defend Owen Lattimore from charges of having "lost" China to the Communists; taught at Harvard and Columbia Universities.

Selected writings:

The United States and the Far Eastern Crisis, 1933–1938 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965); (editor with Waldo Heinrichs) Uncertain Years: Chinese-American Relations, 1947–1950 (NY: Columbia University Press, 1980).

Dorothy Borg, a distinguished member of the first generation of American scholars of East Asian history, refused to be intimidated by the chill winds of McCarthyism in the early 1950s. Born in 1901 in Elberon, New Jersey, she graduated from Wellesley College and earned master's and doctoral degrees in history at Columbia University. Eager to gather firsthand information about the history of East Asia, she spent several years in Beijing and Shanghai as a staff member of the American Council of the Institute of Pacific Relations.

In 1951, at the height of the Cold War, the normally quiet scholarly world of East Asian studies was rocked by accusations that many of its most respected teachers and researchers were in fact either conscious or unwitting agents of subversion. Sensing that useful publicity could be achieved from accusing professors of not fully supporting hardline Cold War policies in East Asia, unscrupulous politicians like Senators Joseph R. McCarthy and Pat McCarran hurled unsubstantiated charges of treason against many distinguished professors and State Department experts on Chinese and East Asian affairs. A series of dramatic hearings before the newly created Internal Security Subcommittee in 1951 and 1952 led to accusations of "disloyalty" and accused some individuals of behavior that had led to the "loss" of China to the Communists in 1949. The most distinguished of the accused academicians, Professor Owen Lattimore of Johns Hopkins University, was accused by McCarthy of being the "top Russian espionage agent" in the United States.

Although her own academic career was not yet fully established, Dorothy Borg responded with vigor to the mudslinging of McCarthy and other "patriotic" politicians. She put her own research plans on the back burner and strove quietly but with determination to defend Lattimore and other scholars whose reputations were being assassinated. She also worked tirelessly to defend the reputation of the Institute of Pacific Relations, which had been accused of not being sufficiently supportive of hardline Cold War policies, including uncritical backing of the defeated Nationalist Chinese regime.

An efficient scholar and administrator, Borg successfully combined the roles of research, writing and the organizing of academic programs. As a research scholar at Harvard University, she was instrumental in organizing area programs that, starting in the 1960s, trained scholars in both American and East Asian history. From 1966 until her retirement a quarter-century later, Borg was a senior research associate at the East Asian Institute of Columbia University. Here, she became known to several generations of scholars both for her learned lectures and skill at organizing and directing countless academic conferences. A highly regarded diplomatic historian, Borg served as a mentor to generations of scholars for more than four decades, and she published several books which remain useful to both scholars and general readers. Dorothy Borg died in New York City in October 1993.


Saxon, Wolfgang. "Dorothy Borg, 91, East Asia Scholar At Columbia, Dies," in The New York Times. October 28, 1993, p. A13.

Schrecker, Ellen W. No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia