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In Memoriam: Daniel F. Callahan

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UD Community remembers retired professor of history for his generosity and passion for teaching

Daniel F. Callahan

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Daniel F. Callahan, professor of history, died on January 25, at the age of 84. Born in Boston on November 28, 1939, he received his artium baccalaureus from St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts in 1962, a master of arts from Boston College in 1965 and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1968. He joined the faculty of the University of Delaware as assistant professor of medieval history in 1968, and he was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1977 and full professor in 1994. He retired in 2018 after 50 years of service. He had given many papers and published numerous articles and essays on monasticism in Aquitaine and in particular on the monk and historian Ademar of Chabannes, culminating in Jerusalem and the Cross in the Life and Writings of Ademar of Chabannes (Leiden-Boston, 2016). His courses were very popular and his students enraptured, resulting in his winning the University's Excellence in Undergraduate Advising and Mentoring award in 2001 and the Excellence in Teaching award in 2002. It is a rarity to receive both honors. In 2014, three of his students published the commemorative volume Where Heaven and Earth Meet. Essays on Medieval History in Honor of Daniel F. Callahan. He was also an ardent fan of the Red Sox, classical music and solitary walks in nature, both here in Newark and at his family's summer cottage in Maine. He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Kari Manns Callahan, and three children.

Accolades have poured in from students, friends, and colleagues:

Nicholas Markellos '02: “Dan Callahan was a remarkable man, a dedicated academic and a phenomenal teacher. Whether it was the lecture hall or seminar table, Dan possessed a gift for engaging his students and guiding them through the intricate details of the Middle Ages. I took six classes with Dan, including an independent study on medieval intellectual history, and each one was memorable. While Dan was my mentor during my undergraduate studies, he truly became my close friend during the last 25 years. My fondest memory with Dan was reading through his manuscript on Ademar of Chabannes and discussing his work. After reading Jerusalem and Cross, I could see how much of his dedication in the classroom developed on those pages, and my memories of him will live on each time I read that book."

Elizabeth A. R. Brown, fellow medievalist and professor emerita at City College in New York: “Dan Callahan is surely resting in peace. He was one of the kindest, gentlest, most tolerant and loving people it has ever been my privilege to know. As a scholar, his humanity and dedication to collaboration, sharing and learning from others rivaled his razor-sharp intelligence. I admired him enormously and valued his friendship more than words can say. His very being contributed to scholarship as it should be practiced."

Lawrence Nees, professor emeritus of art history: “We taught joint seminars, including a memorable one on Charlemagne. My doctoral students took seminars with Dan in history, and all praised and benefitted from his high standards and probing questions. He generously agreed to serve on the graduate advisory committee for those doctoral students and eventually was a reader on their dissertations. What I remember most vividly was his generosity of spirit, and his wonderfully explosive laughter. We will all miss him."

Michael Frassetto (Ph.D. '92), adjunct associate professor of history: “Dan Callahan was my dissertation director, and I benefited greatly from his teaching and friendship. Dan and I had weekly meetings to discuss various books he thought I should read. These meetings taught me much about medieval history, historiography and effective teaching. Our conversations often veered off into Dan's general musing about life and the profession and his love of music and his long walks in the woods. With his encouragement and aid, I applied and won a grant to do dissertation research in Berlin, a project that emerged because of Dan's generosity sharing his own research with me and inviting me to work with him on that material. He took care to make sure I finished my thesis, often reminding me “to the swift go the spoils." Even after completing my thesis, Dan continued to provide guidance as I began my teaching career, taking time to chat on the phone or answer numerous email questions every new teacher has. I owe a great deal to Dan and will miss him dearly."

John Hosler, graduate student (2001-05) and professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College: “I'll most remember our chats. It felt like Dan and I chatted about the Middle Ages nearly every day for the four years I studied under him for my Ph.D. In his office, at Brew Ha-Ha or at the Deer Park Tavern, we'd talk about history, trends in the field and medievalist gossip, along with customary banter on politics and sports. Evenings with spirits and his signature French peasant duck recipe were a rarer but special treat. He was my teacher, mentor, colleague and friend."

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Dan Callahan with colleagues Lawrence Duggan and John Bernstein

​Dan Callahan with colleagues Lawrence Duggan and John Bernstein​

​​James Brophy, Francis H. Squire Professor of History: “His collegiality was peerless. He always had an encouraging word for junior faculty. When I was an untenured greenhorn, Dan frequently served up sound advice with an anecdote, laughter and a smile. Before 'mentoring' became a formal responsibility and the subject of workshops, Dan instinctively guided, instructed and assisted new faculty on any number of issues. His support and quiet leadership was much appreciated.

Dan enriched office life with his conversation, but his collegiality could also be one of silence. Our library offices were across the hall, and here Dan studiously avoided conversation. He instead gave a perfunctory wave, so that each of us could get our work done. His monastic reserve spoke to his other side: reading, reflection, scholarship.

Most of all, Dan loved teaching. Simply put, he was called to his profession. Students flocked to his office hours, and many students took multiple courses with him. He believed deeply in the importance of the liberal arts and the Western tradition for current times and strove to teach European history as a central component of a broader global history. His popularity as a medievalist refuted the common misconception that students no longer take interest in history. Although 'long ago and far away,' his courses were consistently filled to capacity.

Finally, there was an uncommon decency to Dan Callahan. He saw the best in people and brought out the best in them. His civility, his kindness, and his warm, heartening intelligence brightened the world around us. He is deeply missed."

Lawrence Duggan, professor of history: “I am indebted to Dan Callahan for a great deal. He steered the selection committee that called me for an interview in early 1970 to teach Renaissance-Reformation history. I received their recommendation and the department's unanimous vote. (It should be noted that seven new faculty joined the department that year.) Since Dan and I were both medievalists, he very agreeably divided up the Middle Ages with me in the courses I gave over the next five decades, since our interests complemented each other rather than conflicted. We figured out early on that our temperaments differed as well: he was a monk by disposition, I a cardinal. We also learned a great deal from each other, even if we did not always agree. He insisted, for instance, on holding on to the old terminology about "the Dark Ages" and "barbarian Europe," while I accepted the more positive view of "the world of late antiquity." That kind of difference did not in any way diminish our enormous respect and friendship for over 50 years. It was therefore truly heartbreaking to watch his decline in his last years. I miss him enormously."

John Bernstein, professor emeritus of history: “Dan Callahan was a remarkable man. As a human being, he was one of the most courteous I have ever encountered, and this courtesy was more than a matter of 'manners.' It was the natural expression of a quite extraordinary kindness. As a friend, his steadfast loyalty was all that one could ask for. His interests were unusually broad and by no means confined to his specialty of medieval history. Dan followed politics with great interest. He was a skillful gardener who brought the same excellence of taste to that activity that he exhibited in his passionate love for music, including opera and other 'classical' forms but he was open also to 'popular' music of the gentler kinds. An ardent devotee of movies, I think he thought that TCM, the station for old movies shown without commercials, was one of the greatest gifts of modern technology. He was also a passionate lover of birds. He fed them and well into old age constantly walked in the area of White Clay Creek and would thrill to the sight of birds that seldom, or never, made it to his backyard. And then there was baseball. He ardently followed the Red Sox, the team of New England from which he came and to which he returned so often to a cottage in Maine. As a teacher, Dan was a truly outstanding practitioner of the "Socratic method," lecturing less than leading discussions, asking subtle and thought-provoking questions of his students. While a severe grader, he provoked extraordinary affection in his students, many of whom kept up contact with him long after they graduated.​​

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UD Community remembers retired professor of history for his generosity and passion for teaching
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