Bridging Worlds: Andrei Markovits’s Memoir

By Robbin Laird

I met Andy while we both graduate students in the political science department at Columbia University. We had some of the same professors in common, but when we were there Columbia was such a dynamic place you could be in the same department and live separate identities. Which we did.

But fifty years later, I recently contacted Andy to recall the past and to begin again our dialogue. We both received PhDs from Columbia, but he was to go on to become a university professor and I was to go on and invent a career.

It is clear from his autobiography that although he played the game to the extent necessary to become a university professor, he retained his spirit of independence of thought and the wonder that shapes anyone who truly is an intellectual. As he said to me when we talked about the book: “I never liked being sort of put in a place or told what to do. Or as I put in the book, I’m orthogonal.”

There are two incidents provided in the book which underscore the importance of having an orthogonal thinker in the university, an institution which has become far too conformist and repressive of divergent thinking at least in my perspective.

After graduation, he moved to the Boston area where he taught and also joined the Center for European Studies at Harvard University. During the same time period, I remained at Columbia at the Research Institute of International Change until I moved to Washington DC in 1980. But his description of his experience at Harvard reminded me of my experience at Columbia, and of the generation of what would be called the gypsy scholars.

“Harvard became my spiritual and soulful home precisely because I had nothing to do with the institution in any formal manner. I was completely marginal to it.”

And his description of going in to to see the Dean at the University of Michigan and asking why he couldn’t just teach and not be pigeonholed into a department was priceless for anyone who knows how academia really operates.  In fact, it looks like he has pulled off achieving such an outcome by accumulating chairs in various departments, sort of like a hat trick in hockey. He is currently the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Political Science, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and  Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

His description of intellectual life at Columbia and at the European Center at Harvard recall a period of university life which having watched four children go through major universities is not what they experienced.

But the major thrust of the book is a description of a European kid who came to America first in his summers spent with his uncle and then to Columbia as both an undergraduate and graduate student. As a member of a Jewish family that had suffered from the Holocaust, the book provides an historical look at a child raised by a World War II generation and transitioned into the post-War world.

As a man who has a European wife, and lives part of the time in Europe, I found his description of courting the European woman who would become his wife and convincing her to join him in the United States of special interest.

Andy makes a keen observation about European immigrants that come to the United States. He argued that there are two distinct categories: those who continue to live in Europe although physically live in the U.S. and those who fully identify with their new homeland. He makes clear in the book; he holds one passport. He is an American, for which we can be grateful.

I highly recommend the book for those who want to understand the passage through history of 20th century men into the 21st century, with a special emphasis on how one intellectual did so. And I can not close without noting that Andy has blazed a path in studying sport and culture, and will be finishing his book women and soccer on his upcoming sabbatical.

Andrei S. Markovits

Andrei S. Markovits  is the author and editor of many books, scholarly articles, conference papers, book reviews and newspaper contributions in English and many foreign languages on topics as varied as German and Austrian politics, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, social democracy, social movements, the European right and the European left. Markovits has also worked extensively on comparative sports culture in Europe and North America.

His latest book is Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States, co-authored with Emily Albertson. (Temple University Press, 2012).   The typical female sports fan remains very different from her male counterparts. In Sportista, Andrei S. Markovits and Emily Albertson examine the significant ways many women have become fully conversant with sports—acquiring a knowledge of and passion for them as a way of forging identities that until recently were quite alien to women.

Sportista chronicles the relationship that women have developed with sports in the wake of the second wave of feminism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The changes women athletes have achieved have been nothing short of revolutionary.

But, as Markovits and Albertson argue, women’s identity as sports fans, though also changed in recent decades, remains notably different from that of men. Sportista highlights the impediments to these changes that women have faced and the reality that, even as bona fide fans, they “speak” sports differently from and remain largely unaccepted by men.

Professor Markovits is also the recipient of the Bundesverdienstkreuz Erster Klasse, the Cross of the Order of Merit, First Class, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Federal Republic of Germany on a civilian, German or foreign.  It was awarded on behalf of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany by the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago in March 2012.