Lawrence W. Chisolm Dies At 69; Founded UB Department of American Studies

Release Date: April 30, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Lawrence Washington Chisolm, Ph.D., 69, of Buffalo, humanities scholar and professor of American studies at the University at Buffalo since 1968, died at home on Wednesday (April 29, 1998) after a brief illness.

A respected teacher and scholar for 40 years, Chisolm helped found the university's Department of American Studies and was instrumental in nurturing it to the level of national prominence. The department remains one of the most provocative and distinguished in the country.

His interdisciplinary approach to American studies, which was novel 30 years ago, combined a traditional emphasis on history, literature and the arts with a new appreciation of the social sciences, particularly social anthropology. This multidisciplinary strategy has since been adopted widely in the field.

A 1950 graduate of Princeton University, Chisolm received a doctorate from Yale in 1957 after serving for three years in the U.S. Navy. He taught history at Yale for several years before being named a Yale Fellow in East Asian Studies, a position he held from 1964-67. During that time, he lived in Taipei, continuing his work in Chinese language and culture.

Chisolm, who was recruited from Yale to head American studies at UB, combined the study of American history and culture with a fresh perspective gleaned from his knowledge of Asian languages, history and culture. He specialized in the analysis of cultural change in the U.S. and Asia and participated in the seventh US-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON) in Tokyo in 1974.

During the late 1970s, Chisolm served as a specialist on Asian affairs with the U.S. Department of State, visiting Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand under the aegis of that department. He also served as a state department consultant in Mexico in 1977.

Active in the Buffalo community, Chisolm served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Theater Workshop from 1969-71 and in recent years, on the board of directors of Musicians United for Superior Education (MUSE, Inc.) and the North Buffalo Food Cooperative.

Director of graduate studies and director of intercultural studies for the Department of American Studies at UB, he was the author of many scholarly essays and reviews, and the book, "Fenellosa: The Far East and American Culture."

Chisolm is remembered by his colleagues as a warm and generous man and a dedicated and inspiring teacher.

His friend and UB colleague, Charles Keil said, "Larry guided many students over the years with his love of the natural world, his deep respect for cultural diversity and his passion for social justice. He had said of his students that 'the quality of their thinking and the content of their work gives me hope for the future of the world.'"

Kerry S. Grant, dean of the UB Faculty of Arts and Letters, called Chisolm "a pioneer in the development of critical approaches to American culture and social activism.

"He was deeply dedicated to his students and was consistently a voice of conscience and progressivism at UB," said Grant. "We will miss his great intellect and the voice that urged us all to consider the larger condition of mankind in the smaller decisions we make daily."

Chisolm is survived by his wife, Patricia Shelly; five daughters, Anne Waters of Arlington, Mass.; Ruth Chisolm (Arteaga) of Portland, Ore.; Elizabeth Paun of Lebanon, Conn.; Susan Bliss of Burlington, Vt., and Sarah Orlov of Brooklyn, and nine grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the Chapel at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 1411 Delaware Ave. A memorial service will be held in September.

Contributions in Chisholm's memory may be made to "The Daybreak Project," c/o John Mohawk, 1010 Clemens Hall, University at Buffalo, Buffalo N.Y. 14260. The project is a fund for the empowerment of Native-American communities through improved communications, farming methods and food-product marketing and distribution.

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