April 1, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 13

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    Weintraub, 79, admired for his inspirational teaching

    Karl Joachim Weintraub, one of the University’s most celebrated teachers, died Thursday, March 25, in Bernard Mitchell Hospital. Weintraub, 79, was a resident of the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

    A renowned scholar whose research and writing addressed broad historical questions of autobiography and history of culture, Weintraub is well known for his teaching of the Western Civilization course in the College. The course was so popular when Weintraub was teaching it that students would sleep out on the University’s Main Quadrangle the night before registration to secure a place. His carefully framed questions and demanding expectations taught his students to read critically and pursue complex issues.

    Weintraub, the Thomas E. Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in History, also taught in the Committee on Social Thought, the Committee on the History of Culture, the Humanities Division and the College. He spent nearly 60 years at the University as a student, a professor and an inspiring mentor to generations of students.

    Weintraub’s skill as a teacher earned him two of the University’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1960 and 1986), as well as the Danforth Foundation’s E. Harris Harbison Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1967, and the Amoco Foundation Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Teaching in 1995. In 2001, he received the Norman Maclean Alumni Award, which recognizes emeritus and senior faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and the student life experience on campus.

    For many Chicago students, Weintraub––who also had a reputation for being compassionate and approachable––had been the most important educational influence in their lives. A constant inspiration to students, Weintraub kept in touch and encouraged his students toward excellence even after they had left campus.

    “Jock Weintraub (as he was known by colleagues) was infinitely kind and generous toward his students, and for many students, his courses were the high point of their studies at Chicago. He blended energy and lucidity with verve and discernment, and he fostered a lively, no-nonsense engagement on the part of his students with the original historical documents that were at the heart of his courses,” said John Boyer, Dean of the College and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History.

    Leon Kass, the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, said, “For me and many of my contemporaries, Jock Weintraub has stood for decades as the shining exemplar of everything admirable about the University and the intellectual life: love of books, wide curiosity, immense learning, intellectual probity and courage, respect for each individual, dedication to the University, and, above all, magisterial devotion to his subject and his students. As long as Jock Weintraub was on our faculty, one could be sure that this was still the University of Chicago. We shall not see his likes again.”

    Kass’ wife, Amy Kass, Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, had Weintraub as a teacher as an undergraduate student at Chicago. “Jock Weintraub was the first teacher I encountered as an undergraduate at the University. And he inspired me and so many of his other students to become teachers,” she recalled.

    Besides being a respected teacher, Weintraub also was an esteemed scholar and was particularly interested in historiography and autobiography. He wrote numerous articles and book chapters as well as two books, Visions of Culture: Voltaire-Guizot-Burckhardt-Lamprecht-Huizinga-Ortega y Gassett (1966) and The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography (1978).

    “I can’t think of anyone whose death means as much of a loss of knowledge of the world,” said Wayne Booth, the George Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language & Literature. “He knew and had thought about everything—politics, literature, religion and just about everything else.

    “His work was terribly important to me and others. His work on Goethe was the best job on Goethe I know. He also did work on various forms of individuality.”

    Weintraub held many positions of leadership at the University, including serving as Chairman of the Western Civilization course, Chairman of the Committee on the History of Culture and Dean of the Humanities Division. He was a trustee of Knox College and the Art Institute of Chicago and a governor on the Board of Governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    He was born in Darmstadt, Germany, to his Jewish father and his Christian mother. He was sent to attend a Quaker boarding school in Holland. During World War II, Christians hid him for his safety, and during that time he did a tremendous amount of reading. After the war, the Quakers arranged for him to go to New York, and it was there he was encouraged to go to the University of Chicago.

    He received an A.B. in 1949, an A.M. in 1952, and a Ph.D. in History in 1957, all from Chicago. He began teaching at the University in 1954 as an intern with the College’s Western Civilization program.

    Weintraub is survived by his wife Katy O’Brien Weintraub and by his sister, Tatjana Wood. A memorial service is being planned.