University of Rochester

Attorney Joseph F. Cunningham Endows Professorship in History

May 2, 2011

Robert B. Westbrook, Professor of American History, Named First Recipient

University of Rochester alumnus Joseph F. Cunningham, founder of the Washington, D.C-area law firm Cunningham & Associates, has established a professorship in history. Robert B. Westbrook, an intellectual historian of 20th-century America, will be the first to hold the endowed position.

"Joseph Cunningham is one of our truly admired University graduates," said University 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 co-authored 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 that legal training, Cunningham returned to Rochester, his childhood home. "I was born and raised down the street" from the University, says Cunningham, and he fondly remembers "sledding on the slopes behind the football field" and playing basketball on campus. 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."

The first recipient of the newly endowed chair is Robert Westbrook, an eminent and prolific scholar, dedicated teacher, and long-serving member of the history department.

Westbrook's first book, John Dewey and American Democracy (1991), 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 has 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 (2004), Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth (2005), and more than forty 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 is "first and foremost a social critic, a conscientious observer, and a deeply committed intellectual whose scholarship embraces the historical contexts of our most pressing social concerns," adds Slaughter.

A popular teacher with a devoted student following, Westbrook currently serves as the history department's director of undergraduate studies. Over 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.

Westbrook will be officially installed as the Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History at 4 p.m. on May 2 in the Hawkins-Carlson room of Rush Rhees Library. A reception follows. Guests wishing to attend should RSVP to the Office of Donor Relations at 275-7498.