University of Rochester

Rochester Review
July–August 2011
Vol. 73, No. 6

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Joseph Cunningham: ‘A Lifelong Interest in History’
cunninghamNAMESAKE: Cunningham studied history at Rochester while waiting to be called to active duty and later established a career as an attorney in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Adam Fenster)

“I was born and raised down the street from the University,” says Joseph Cunningham ’67 (MA), recalling “sledding on the slopes behind the football field” and playing basketball on campus.

Urged by his mother to attend a Catholic college, he earned his bachelor’s degree not at Rochester, but at John Carroll University, he told the audience in Rush Rhees Library’s Hawkins-Carlson Room last May at the installation of the first Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History.

After college, he pursued a law degree at Columbia. In 1962, a newly minted attorney who was also a commissioned officer awaiting a call for active duty, Cunningham had the time and the inclination to sample Rochester’s academic offerings. He eventually pursued a master’s degree in history, for which he was awarded a tuition scholarship.

“I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, and a great regard for the University of Rochester,” says Cunningham. He says he and his wife, Andrea, endowed a professorship out of “gratitude for the spontaneous generosity that the University extended to me when I wanted to pursue graduate studies.”

Cunningham’s master’s thesis, “Religious Aspects of American Government in the Philippine Islands,” was a first-rate work of scholarship, says Stewart Weaver, a professor of history and chair of the department, who checked it out of Rush Rhees Library and read it prior to Cunningham’s visit to campus in May.

“Joe’s thesis anticipated by decades the recent scholarly interest in the cultural dimensions of Western colonialism and might well have been published had his career not taken him in other directions,” says Weaver.

Cunningham has practiced law for more than four decades and is the founder of the Washington, D.C.–area firm Cunningham & Associates, specializing in insurance defense and civil litigation. He has also taught law at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.

Says Weaver: “The endowment of the Cunningham Professorship is a tribute not only to Joe’s extraordinary generosity but also an important statement of faith in the historical discipline. It will heighten substantially the visibility of our program and make it possible to retain and benefit from the presence of one of our most outstanding scholars.”

—Karen McCally