Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree: Hayden White is a literary critic and historical theorist whose name appears on a landmark California Supreme Court case as well as his many books. At age 85, he has only recently retired from teaching as a professor of comparative literature at Stanford University. He is professor emeritus of the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
In works such as Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe, White has argued that literary and historical writing share a reliance on storytelling form, meaning that no history can be considered completely objective or scientific. However, he also holds that this reliance on the narrative structure allows history to be meaningful. His latest volume, titled The Practical Past, will be released in 2014.
Born in Tennessee, White grew up in Detroit during the Depression. He earned an undergraduate degree in history from Wayne State University and completed his doctorate at the University of Michigan. He spent two years in Italy in the 1950s on a Fulbright Fellowship completing his dissertation research on medieval church history.
White has also taught at Wayne State, the University of Rochester, UCLA and Wesleyan University. He has received grants, fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Guggenheim Foundation and many other prestigious organizations. He held residential fellowships at Cornell, Wesleyan, the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies in Florence, Stanford, the American Academy in Berlin and the University of Bologna, Italy.
Perhaps his proudest accomplishment is having served as plaintiff in a class-action civil rights lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department during the Vietnam era. In 1973 while a history professor at UCLA, White brought suit against the chief of police, alleging covert intelligence gathering tactics that included having officers register as students, take notes on anti-Vietnam class discussions and make police reports based on the discussions. The California Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in White’s favor in 1975. The case, White versus Davis, established limits on police surveillance of political activity in California, barring it in the absence of reasonable suspicion of a crime.
White’s teaching philosophy holds that the aim of education should be to help young people think their own thoughts and speak in their own voices, rather than fit themselves into pre- established patterns of behavior and belief prescribed by society, the business world or the legal establishment. He is married to Margaret Brose, professor emerita of literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.