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Guide to The Tony Judt Collection MC 233

Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY, 10012
(212) 998-2641
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New York University Archives

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Biographical Note

Tony Robert Judt was a historian, essayist and public intellectual. He established the Remarque Institute at New York University and served as its first director. He taught at NYU from 1987 until his death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2010. Judt focused on French intellectual and 20th century European affairs in his teaching and writing, both academic and popular. He is perhaps best known for his 800-plus page history of Europe, Postwar.

Judt was born in London in 1948 to a middle class secular Jewish family with Eastern European roots. He spent his later teen years in Israel, volunteering as an interpreter during the Six-Day War. Judt later became disillusioned by the Zionist movement and left-wing politics. Later, he often wrote about this ideological change in the context of his identification with social democracy.

After Israel, Judt returned to Europe to study and received degrees in history from the University of Cambridge as well as École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He taught at Cambridge, University of California, Davis, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Oxford before coming to NYU. For a time in the 1980s, Judt lived in Prague and Vienna where he witnessed the political transformations of the time and became more focused on Eastern Europe in his studies and teaching.

Judt began his tenure at NYU as a professor in the Department of History. He taught at the Institute of French Studies as well, briefly serving as director in 1989. He also chaired the Department of History (1992-1993) and served as Dean for the Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Science (1993-1995). In 2006, Judt was given the title University Professor, “a rank conferred upon outstanding NYU faculty whose scholarship extends across traditional disciplinary boundaries and who are internationally recognized scholars and teachers.”

In 1992, Judt was appointed to the Erich Maria Remarque Chair in European Studies and helped establish the Remarque Institute three years later. The Institute’s purpose is to “support and promote the study of Europe and to encourage and facilitate communication between Americans and Europeans.” Remarque’s widow, Paulette Goddard, bequeathed funding for the creation of the Institute. Remarque offers fellowships and hosts programs, lectures, seminars and other events.

Judt authored and edited numerous books, 13 of which are represented in this collection. His work in French socialism and intellectual history is reflected in his earlier books including Socialism in Provence (1979),  Marxism and the French Left (1979),  Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 (1992), and  Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century (1998).

Throughout his career at NYU, Judt wrote prolifically for outlets such as The New York Review of Books,  The New York Times and  The National Review, often tying current events to history. He weighed in heavily on the September 11 terrorist attacks, war in Iraq, and matters in American and European policy. He wrote for academic journals, as well. In 2008,  Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the top 100 public intellectuals. Judt won the George Orwell Special Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2009.

Considered a public intellectual by many, Judt always said he thought of himself as a teacher first. In 2003, he was criticized for his New York Review of Books article entitled “Israel: The Alternative,” in which he described the country as an “anachronism” and proposed a bi-national one-state solution. In 2006, two lectures he was set to give on the topic were canceled due to complaints from Jewish groups over his stance on Israel. A public discussion in the press followed.

Postwar, published in 2005, was the culmination of more than a decade of research and thought. It was Judt’s last work of original historical research that he was able to physically complete himself, due to his illness. In 2008, he published a collection of essays that had mostly appeared in  New York Review of Books entitled  Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century. Later that year, he was diagnosed with ALS, but continued writing with the help of assistants to transcribe. He wrote about his illness and turned more toward autobiographical essay writing in the final years of his life, dictating many articles.

In October 2009, bound to a wheelchair and connected to a breathing apparatus, Judt delivered the annual Remarque Institute Lecture, his last public lecture, to an audience at NYU. He delivered it from memory. The lecture, entitled “What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy” was turned into the book Ill Fares the Land. Another book of Judt’s previously published essays,  The Memory Chalet, was published in 2010. It contains a mix of personal and historical essays. The final book of Judt's writing,  Thinking the Twentieth Century, was adapted from Judt’s conversations with colleague Timothy Snyder about his life, intellectual journey, and work just prior to his death. It was published posthumously in 2012.

Judt died August 6, 2010. He had two children with wife Jennifer Homans—Daniel and Nicholas.