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Gift From Former Hamilton Professor Establishes Endowed Chair

Hamilton College has received $1.6 million from the estate of renowned New York State historian and Hamilton alumnus David Ellis and his wife Carolyn, which will support an endowed chair in their name.

The Ellis Distinguished Teaching Professorship will be awarded on a rotating basis to a faculty member who has achieved distinction through scholarship and teaching, and who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the professional development of fellow faculty members and to the intellectual development of students. Dean of Faculty Patrick Reynolds named longtime Professor of Comparative Literature Peter Rabinowitz to be the inaugural recipient of the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis ’38 Chair.

The only son of Welsh immigrants who operated a grocery store in the Cornhill section of Utica, Ellis graduated from Utica Free Academy in 1932. He enrolled at Hamilton two years later following an illness and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1938 with honors in history, philosophy and political science. Ellis received his master’s degree in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1942, both from Cornell, and eventually returned to Hamilton in 1946 as assistant professor of history. That same year, he published his first book, Landlords and Farmers in the Hudson-Mohawk Region, 1790-1850, which earned him the American Historical Association’s Dunning Prize.

A social and economic historian who focused on the development of New York State, Ellis was considered by many to be the foremost expert on the state’s history. He was principal author of New York: The Empire State, which became a standard grade-school text, and A History of New York State. During his career, he published 10 books and dozens of articles, papers and book reviews. Hamilton colleague and fellow alumnus Jay Williams said of Ellis: “With 75 items to his credit in the library catalogue, it may very well be that he was the most published Hamilton faculty member of the 20th century.”

Ellis’ expertise on New York State history led to numerous professional appointments, including president of the New York State American Studies Association and membership on the executive council of the American Studies Association. He also served as a fellow and trustee of the New York State Historical Association and was president, from 1980 to 1990, of the Oneida County Historical Society, which this fall named its Hall of Fame in honor of David and Carolyn Ellis.

In recognition of his devotion to Hamilton, the Alumni Association presented him its Bell Ringer Award in 1987 and three years later, the college awarded him an honorary degree for his exceptional teaching and scholarship.

“As a faculty member, David Ellis was imperturbably loyal to the college,” said his colleague Jay Williams. “From 1968 until 1978 he served as chair of the History Department with great distinction. A friend and counselor for several Hamilton presidents, he seldom took the revolutionary side but held staunchly to the middle ground. Invariably, he argued for what he deemed best, not for himself or for his department, but for the college.”

In making the inaugural appointment of the Ellis Chair, Dean Reynolds noted that Rabinowitz has “a long career of excellence in teaching and scholarship, during which he has displayed an enduring commitment to and engagement in faculty governance, the mentorship of early career faculty members and the intellectual development of students.” Rabinowitz earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, began teaching at Kirkland College in 1974 and joined the Hamilton faculty in 1978 when the two schools merged. His interests range broadly, from Proust to hard-boiled fiction, from ragtime to opera, from Chekhov to the nearly forgotten E.D.E.N. Southworth.

Rabinowitz is co-editor of the Ohio State University Press Series on Theory and Interpretation of Narrative. He is the author of Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and The Politics of Interpretation (1987); co-author (with Michael Smith) of Authorizing Readers: Resistance and Respect in the Teaching of Literature (1998); and  co-author (with James Phelan, David Herman, Brian Richardson and Robyn Warhol) of Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates (2012). That book was among 10 selected by Choice as an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2012.

Rabinowitz’s academic essays have appeared in a wide variety of books and journals, including PMLA, Critical Inquiry, Black Music Research Journal and 19th-Century Music. As a music critic, he writes extensively in non-academic publications as well. He is a contributing editor of Fanfare and a regular contributor to International Record Review.

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