Deborah Kaplan: The Afterlife of My Husband Roy Rosenzweig's Archive

Historians in the News

[Deborah Kaplan is an associate professor of English and cultural studies at George Mason University. She prepared a collection of Roy Rosenzweig's essays, Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age, to be published by Columbia University Press this winter.]

My husband, Roy Rosenzweig, died in 2007 of an illness we had no reason to anticipate. Ten percent to 15 percent of lung cancers in the United States occur in people who have never smoked; he was one of them. Giving us little time to prepare, the disease ended his life within a year and a half of his diagnosis. For several months afterward, I preferred to spend as much time as I could away from our house, returning only to sleep. But eventually I decided to move, a feat I could accomplish only by going through my—and his—things.

Roy was a professionally active historian for more than 30 years, and most of his possessions were connected to that occupation. Among the rooms that I'd been avoiding, his study remained as he had left it on the day he went to the hospital for the last time. Even for a space dedicated to a single activity, it was unusually functional. By means of its accretions, it also suggested the span and style of his working life.

Lined with file cabinets and bookcases, the latter of which wound their way through much of the house, the room contained a door resting on two-drawer file cabinets, which he'd used as a desk since graduate school, and a newer, more expensive desk chair, acquired at a time when the only health problem he worried about was a sore lower back from sitting too long. For years a second desk chair had stood near his own, for hosting the friends and students with whom he had often worked.
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