Paul Gilje (President, 2008) offers his thoughts on Drew Cayton in the second post of our series:
I first met Drew about forty years ago – when he began his graduate studies at Brown. What struck me about Drew from the very first day was his enthusiasm for history. Over the years, at Brown and after, I watched as Drew took that enthusiasm and applied it to the history he wrote. He developed into one of the premier historians of the early republic. He did so not only because of his enthusiasm. No, there was a suppleness of mind and a willingness to ask new and tough questions, finding answers in interesting places. These qualities appeared in his books, essays and articles. Several of his shorter pieces are classics in terms of research, writing, and most important, thinking (see for example his essay on the Treaty of Greenville). Recognized as the scholar who best understood the Old Northwest, Drew was willing to turn to new vistas. I was blown away when Drew presented his SHEAR presidential address on literary and cultural history and read his elaboration on the subject of that lecture in Love in the Time of Revolution with awe at his versatility and breadth of knowledge.
Drew was a clever, funny, and engaging man. He was an absolute natural in the classroom. I envied his ease of style and ability to relate to those he was teaching. I feel blessed that he came to an NEH Institute I was directing because I had the opportunity to experience his teaching at first hand. Finally, when I think of Drew I most remember the personal moments: when we danced (not with each other) at a disco party at Brown (it was the mid-’70s), or drove together to a mall near Providence to buy Christmas presents for our wives, or decades later in a Washington bar chatting late at night at the AHA, and most recently, spending two days together when he came to Norman in the summer of 2014. I consider myself lucky to have known Drew and that I could call him a friend.