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May 17, 2011

Attorney Joseph Cunningham endows history professorship

Joseph Cunningham
Robert Westbrook

Robert Westbrook, an intellectual historian of 20th-century America, is the first Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History, a position established by Joseph Cunningham ’67 (MA), founder of the Washington, D.C.–area law firm Cunningham & Associates.

“Joseph Cunningham is one of our truly admired University graduates,” says President Joel Seligman. “He has litigated thousands of cases, is an expert in commercial and insurance law, and has led his own firm for the past four decades. His decision to endow a chair in history demonstrates a deep commitment to higher education.”

Cunningham coauthored the Virginia State Bar Monograph on Insurance Law, has published widely in legal journals, and is a frequent lecturer at Georgetown Law Center, the University of Maryland, and the University of Virginia. He endowed a chair in insurance and commercial law at Columbia University School of Law, where he received his law degree in 1960.

After completing his legal training, Cunningham returned to Rochester, his childhood home. In 1962, the newly minted attorney began to sample the University’s academic offerings, eventually pursuing a master’s degree in history, for which he was awarded a tuition scholarship.

Cunningham says he endowed a professorship out of “gratitude for the spontaneous generosity that the University extended to me when I wanted to pursue graduate studies.”

Westbrook, the first recipient, is an eminent scholar, dedicated teacher, and longtime member of the history department.

His first book, John Dewey and American Democracy, which won the Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history published in 1991–92, remains the standard scholarly biography of Dewey and sparked a renewed interest among historians, literary critics, and historians in the philosophy of pragmatism.

Westbrook’s subsequent works, Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II, Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth, and more than 40 essays and papers have secured his reputation as one of the “foremost interpreters of pragmatism and the American moral conscience at work today,” says Thomas Slaughter, Rochester’s Arthur R. Miller Professor of History.

Westbrook currently serves as the history department’s director of undergraduate studies. During his 24 years at Rochester, he has supervised 22 doctoral dissertations, many of which have become important books, and for five years led the department as chair.

He joined the University in 1986, following eight years on the Yale University faculty. He holds a doctorate in history from Stanford University.

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