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Remembering Drs. Fink and Heitzman

Former Graduate Student, Dr. Veronica Holmes

“James Heitzman is a person and professor I will always remember. His classes were challenging, he pushed his students towards excellence, yet he was a friendly and supportive person and friend who always went out of his way to help students outside the classroom. For his fine character, brilliant mind, and caring friendship, he will live on in the memories of all who encountered him, and especially those who were brave and lucky enough to study under him.”

Lecturer, Dr. Mary Rolinson

"I am really missing Gary Fink's wisdom and knowledge during these volatile economic times. He had such a profound understanding of the historical and economic forces which plummeted the global economy into depression in 1930 and how the politics of recovery changed the United States forever. I am so grateful to have had two seminars under him."

"James Heitzman taught very challenging seminars in South Asian history. He knew most of us were not working to become specialists in that field, so his required us to read and engage with theory. Subaltern Studies provided a theoretical model that enabled me to think in a much more sophisticated way about my dissertation topic. I remember him as an unselfish person who took the time to consider how he could enhance our graduate training. He was both a brilliant scholar and a thoughtful mentor."

Former Graduate Student, Dr. Fakhri Hagghani

I came to know Dr. Heitzman during the last semester of my course works, which later left me with great regrets. It was the Historical Theory/Method seminar taught by Dr. Heitzman that semester which introduced me to the unique character and persona he as an engaged and passionate educator within the classroom and a highly esteemed intellectual and friend outside had developed. On the very first day of his class, Dr. Heitzman was not shy to make his students aware of the reasons why they were going to have numerous sleepless nights during the course of that semester if they had agreed to stay royal to him by not dropping off the course. It was his ability to place students at the threshold of a promising horizon of ideals, dreams, and possibilities achieved through infinite steep into the mystic world of knowing and exploring that made us all to endure the semester and challenges he placed on our ways of thinking. Like Dr. Heitzman himself, if you did not fear self-motivation, discipline, knowledge unbound, exploration, imagination, and humor you had gained yourself great points, not only in that seminar but in life. Dr. Heitzman’s seminar included major pedagogical components of the field of history, from theoretical frameworks in social sciences and historiography of the discipline to the archival research and grant proposal writing assignments. In fact, it was by the way of his class assignment of conducting archival research at the President Carter’s Library that I came to be exposed for the first time, on a practical level, to the process.

Dr. Heitzman remained a close friend and an inspiring scholar to me during the months after the semester ended helping me with composing and writing a grant proposal to receive funding to conduct my dissertation archival research in Iran and Egypt. One of my cherished memories from this period of friendship was his laugh over the choice of my methodology of conducting semi-structured interviews in coffeehouses in Iran and Egypt. He found the statement “erratic” for those who would sit on the selection committees and believed that I would never be able to get money for my research by telling those people that I intended to “hang around coffee shops” chatting and conversing, even though that has proved to be the most effective method in producing great outcomes. Last time I saw Dr. Heitzman was February 2005 during the second months of my residency in Cairo after I had received an ARCE research grant. Dr. Heitzman and his wife Dr. Smriti Srinivas were invited to present a paper in a workshop organized by the Institute of Gender and Women’s Studies at American University in Cairo. Although he was weak and fragile he did not stop teasing me on my method of “hanging around coffeehouses” to interview people. He wanted to know how successful that method has been for my research in Cairo and he said that he would passionately look forward to reading my manuscript in order to find out the answer to his question. Dr. Heitzman passed away on November 15th, 2008 a day after I defended my doctoral dissertation. His absence within the world of scholarship and among historians will be felt with tremendous grief and sadness in the future. For me, it was the power of his energy, agency, and grace invested in my work that carried my thoughts about him on the day of my dissertation defense and a few days earlier when I had thought about giving him the news on my doctoral dissertation defense but then changed my mind and decided to surprise him later with the outcome.

Professor, Dr. David McCreery
Of the many good things I could remember about Gary Fink, one that stands out is his respect for his students. My wife Angela took courses with him soon after she arrived from Brazil in 1977. The product of several years of solidly Marxist training – as were all Brazilian history students in those days – her orientation to labor and working class history and, indeed, to the history of the United States, were quite different than those that predominated in the GSU at the time. Not only was Gary patient with her but he was eager understand and learn from her perspective even when he could not agree with it. He was, she felt, the best history professor she had at GSU. David and Angela McCreery