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Homage to a Historian: A Festschrift for David Warren Sabean

This post was submitted to Berghahn by the authors of Kinship, Community, and Self: Essays in Honor of David Warren Sabeanforthcoming in December 2014.




A Festschrift celebrates a scholar’s entire career. A collection of essays written by students or those inspired by the academic’s work, a Festschrift is typically presented to the honoree on the occasion of her or his 75th birthday.


As David Sabean neared this milestone, he gently reminded a number of us of the impending deadline. We took the bait but wanted to preserve the surprise. Four of Sabean’s doctoral students from UCLA organized contributions from another thirteen of his students, each of whom contributed some piece of writing related to one of the themes of the book. The idea was not only to surprise David with this book in his honor, but also to indicate the ways that his influence shaped our scholarly interests and abilities. The cover, which shows a tree of “consanguinity and affinity” created in the 15th century, pays homage to one of David’s enduring areas of research, and it also conveys the sense of kinship that his students feel towards one another. The resulting collection of essays, introduced by David’s longstanding colleague from UC Berkeley Tom Brady and concluded by his friends Mary Lindemann (Miami) and David Luebke (Oregon), represents a gift from his students to our doctoral adviser.


But of course the best gifts are the ones that are unexpected (insert Marcel Mauss joke here!). Even though David had hinted that he wanted us to present him with a Festschrift, we decided early on that it would be pedestrian to simply hand him a book that he expected was coming. Thus a two-year-long series of subterfuges and sleights of hand was initiated, during which we put the book together while keeping its development a secret from the honoree. Despite a few slipups (CVs posted online; the all-seeing eye of Amazon), the cone of silence remained as such, and David became more and more vocally disappointed that he would not receive a Festschrift on his 75th birthday. The timeline was incredibly tight, and each of the authors — true to their training by Sabean — adhered to his or her deadline, turning in drafts and revisions when asked, and importantly, maintaining radio silence. Berghahn Books, incredibly, agreed to suspend the usual marketing campaign so that we could present the book to David at the annual meeting of the German Studies Association as a genuine surprise.


At the German Studies Association meeting, a series of more-or-less ridiculous machinations delivered David to a Berghahn-sponsored reception that was held, unbeknownst to him, in his honor. Surprised first by the presence of his wife Ruth, and then by the presentation of the volume, Sabean claimed later that a tear came “very briefly” to his eye. Wagered fortunes changed hands on this lack of lachrymosity, and David had his wish for a birthday Festschrift fulfilled.

–Jason Coy, Ben Marschke, Jared Poley, and Claudia Verhoeven



Pictures from the Event:


David Warren Sabean and a toast in his honor


David’s wife, Ruth, hiding before the big surprise


Publisher Marion Berghahn and David Warren Sabean

4A warm reception






Read more about the forthcoming title here.

Check out a related journal on German Studies here.