Alfred F. Young
Professor Emeritus, History
At a recent major conference, noted historian, Alice Kessler-Harris of Columbia University, described the NIU history department as “Al Young’s department.” Now twenty years after his retirement from Northern, Dr. Alfred F. Young’s influence on the department, college, and field of early American history is still felt. By focusing on ordinary people during the American Revolution, Dr. Young’s research and writing “transformed the study of early America,” and was instrumental in building the scholarly reputation of the department and the college.
After completing his graduate work at Columbia and Northwestern, and teaching in eastern colleges, Dr. Young came to NIU in 1964. Over his 25-year career, he established himself, one colleague wrote, “as one of the most influential scholars to ever teach at NIU.” His essay collections, The American Revolution (1976) and Beyond the American Revolution (1993), highlighted the work of a new generation of young historians, many of whom became leaders in the discipline. The collections themselves helped established the NIU Press as a major publisher of early American history.
Often referred to as an anti-elitist, Dr. Young continually made efforts to share history with lay audiences. During the nation’s bicentennial, he traveled throughout the country to show a slideshow on artisans of the Revolution to union workers and other audiences. As part of the American Social History Project, he collaborated on a video about George Robert Twelves Hewes, a Boston shoemaker in the Revolution. He also served as co-curator of the Chicago Historical Society’s long-running exhibit, “We the People,” on display from 1987 to 2005.
In retirement, he was Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, until 2005. Afterward, he published two biographies: one of Hewes, the other of Deborah Sampson, a woman soldier in the Revolution, as well as a collection of essays; two more books will be published in 2011. Dr. Young has received many prestigious awards, including a Distinguished Service Award from the Organization of American historians. His career was the subject of a major article in a 2004 issue of The New Republic. His work and reputation helped build a national standing for NIU’s program in early American history.