by Tony Moore
Professor of History Steve Weinberger's office looks like he’s been collecting cultural and historical memorabilia for, oh, 50 years or so, hanging it on his walls as soon as he can locate an open spot. And of course a small suit of armor stands next to his desk, near similar bookends—perfect for someone who has spent decades studying and teaching medieval and Renaissance history.
But as Weinberger looks back to the start of his 50-year tenure at Dickinson from the brink of his pending retirement, he says everything almost went in a different direction. Two years deep into an accounting major at Northwestern University, working in an accounting office, he had a realization.
“What I noticed was nobody was thrilled with their work, and … I found the work I was doing really boring and tedious,” he says, noting that his love of history was really starting to resurface at the time as well. Weinberger soon hit it off with a student from Argentina, who was helping him with his Spanish. And he talked to her often, pondering aloud that it might be nice to become a history professor. “She was the one who really encouraged me to do it, and as a result of her support, I made the switch.”
The switch made him a history major and later a medieval history student in grad school. And generations of Dickinsonians are glad he did it.
“Professor Weinberger has not only made me a better historian and scholar but truly has invigorated my love of learning,” says Madeline Kauffman ’18. “I am genuinely going to miss having him as a professor but will carry his teachings with me all through life.”
“[He] projected an intense passion for his historical studies and a love to go through intricacies and find the answers,” recalls Charles Glatz ’75, P’15, a participant in the Bologna program during Weinberger’s first year as its resident director (1973-74) and now a retired Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. “Anyone studying with him could not help but be engaged with his passion and become energized with his subject matter.”
And Weinberger’s personality is something that might stick with them even longer than the intricacies of medieval or Renaissance history he parsed in the classroom. Cathy McDonald Davenport ’87, Dickinson’s dean of admissions, looks back at something Weinberger said to her 30 years ago, stuck in her mind as though it were yesterday.
“Late in the semester, we all arrived with our notebooks and the book we should have read, and every book looked as though it was just purchased—no creases to demonstrate that it had been opened or read,” she says. “Professor Weinberger took one of the books, opened it several times to break the spine and said, ‘At least make the book look like you read it.’ ”
“His marvelous dry wit, delivered in that droll Boston accent, enlivened class, as well as our many social exchanges over the years,” says Eric Denker, also class of 1975, now senior lecturer at the National Gallery of Art. “His retirement marks the end of an era at Dickinson.”
In true liberal-arts fashion, Weinberger’s focus has expanded and changed over that era, driven by a love that’s been with him forever.
“Film has always been my passion, ever since I was a little kid,” says Weinberger, who has been teaching the history of film since Dickinson’s film studies program launched in 2000. “The liberal-arts influence really transformed me, because I’ve ended up studying and teaching fields that I had never taken in school. So we not only broaden our students, we broaden the faculty.”
And Weinberger’s focus is not the only thing that has changed over the past 50 years. As he examines those fleeting decades, Dickinson itself has become something of a new institution.
“The school has become infinitely better in virtually every way since I started here,” he says, noting that study abroad opportunities and diversity are vastly more impressive than what he found on campus as the 1960s became the 1970s. “In every way imaginable, this school has blossomed. It’s really a remarkable place, and I’m going to miss being surrounded by really smart people, having a chance to talk on a daily basis with really smart people about any subject—that stimulation.”
As Dickinson’s Robert Coleman Professor of History prepares to leave after the longest faculty run in the college’s 235-year history—to return to his native Boston with his wife, where his sons live, where “it’ll be nice to hear English spoken properly”—it’s all full circle.
“I could not imagine having remained as an accountant,” he says. “I just keep thinking of how fortunate I am that I not only went into a field that I really liked but was able to do it for 50 years. I can’t think of anything that I would have enjoyed as much as what I’m doing now.”
And remember the student from Argentina? “I ended up marrying her,” Weinberger says. “And we just celebrated our 51st anniversary.” That might be a Dickinson record too.
Published August 3, 2018