Honorary Degree Citation - Sacvan Bercovitch

by Mervin Butovsky, June 1993

Mr. Rector, I have the honour to present to you Sacvan Bercovitch, a renowned scholar and literary historian whose studies in American literature and culture have established him as the leading Americanist of his generation. His many essays and books have initiated profound debates on the questions of what it means to be an American in the modern world, and of the relationship between history and literature in the narratives of national self-determination.

Professor Bercovitch was born in Montréal and while it may appear strange that the most incisive present-day interpreter of the idea of America should turn out to be a Canadian, we fellow Montrealers are probably less surprised than others. For like us, Sacvan Bercovitch carne to learn from the very streets and districts of Montréal about the boundaries that both separate and bind people of different ethnic, linguistic and racial identities. That birthright was augmented by studies in the local schools and at Sir George Williams College -- one of the constituents of present-day Concordia. It was as a part-time evening student in the modest, unpretentious buildings of the downtown campus that the foundation of his learning was formed. On graduation in 1961 he was awarded the Governor General's Medal for Literature and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for Graduate Study at Claremont Graduate School in California where he earned his doctorate in 1965.

He commenced his teaching career as instructor at Columbia University, with later posts at Brandeis and the University of California before his return to Columbia as Full Professor between 1970 and 1983. That year he assumed his present chair at Harvard University as the Charles H. Carswell Professor of English and American Literature.

Professor Bercovitch has been a visiting lecturer at many campuses and learned institutions throughout the United States and around the world. His work has been recognized through numerous awards and fellowships including those of The Ford Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Humanities.

His influential publications give permanent form to his major scholarly preoccupation with the ideology of American literature. They now include the classic The Puritan Origins of the American Self and four other volumes. In addition, he has edited four volumes of essays and also serves as general editor of the Cambridge History of American Literature. The collective force of his studies, essays, and lectures, has energized the discipline and rendered him the subject of intense academic study and debate.

Mr. Rector, it is a privilege, and a great personal pleasure, to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Sacvan Bercovitch -- native son and graduate of our institution -- so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.