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In memoriam: Isaac Kramnick was eminent scholar, historian and author

Isaac Kramnick (Photo by Ingrid Laas)

Historian, author and scholar Isaac Kramnick died Dec. 21 in New York City at the age of 81.

He had spoken just two months earlier at FFRF’s national convention in Madison, Wis., along with his writing partner, R. Laurence Moore. They co-authored Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic in 2018 and The Godless Constitution in 1996. 

Kramnick was born March 6, 1938, and was adopted into an Orthodox Jewish farming family in Millis, Mass. He graduated from a public school that had only 19 students in his class. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1959, studied at Cambridge University from 1959-60 and earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1965. He taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Yale before ending up at Cornell.

Kramnick began teaching at Cornell in 1972, then became associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1986-89; led the Department of Government from 1996-2001; and served as the university’s first vice provost for undergraduate education from 2001-05. Kramnick was Cornell University’s Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government Emeritus.

“I will miss Isaac’s sense of humor as well as his many other qualities,” Cornell President Emeritus Hunter R. Rawlings told the press. “He made the room light up and left us feeling better than when we walked in.”

Kramnick wrote a number of influential books on the history of British and American political thought from the 18th century to the present day. His Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole won the Conference of British Studies Prize for best book on British politics.

Kramnick was a fellow of Britain’s Royal Historical Society and served in 1989 as president of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. In 1998 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At Cornell, he was a recipient of the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award and was named a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow.

Kramnick retired in 2015 after 43 years at Cornell but remained active, teaching for Cornell’s Adult University.

Kramnick’s speech at FFRF’s convention will be printed in the March issue. Watch that speech or his appearance on “Freethought Matters” on FFRF’s YouTube channel.