North American Scholar

LAISTNER, Max Ludwig Wolfram

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1890-10-10
  • Born City: London
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: Max & Lisette Caecilia Katharina Weber L.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1959-12-10
  • Death City: Ithaca
  • Death State/Country: NY
  • Education:

    B.A. Cambridge, 1912; M.A., 1920; Litt. D., 1944; Craven schol. for res. in Greece, 1912-3; study at Brit. Sch. Arch., Athens, 1913-4.

  • Professional Experience:

    Asst. lctr. class. Birmingham (Eng.) U., 1914; lctr. hist. & arch. Queen's U. (Belfast), 1915-6; lctr. class. U. Manchester, 1919-21; asst. prof. anc. hist. U. London, 1921-5; prof. anc. hist. Cornell, 1925-40; John Stambaugh prof. hist. 1940-58; Sather prof., 1946; James W. Richard lctr. U. Virginia, 1950; ed. bd. AmHistR.

  • Publications:

    Greek Economics (London & Toronto, 1923); Isocrates. De pace and Philippus, CSCP 22 (New York & London, 1927); A Survey of Ancient History to the Death of Constantine (Boston & New York, 1929); A History of the Greek World from 479 to 323 B.C. (London, 1936; 2d ed. 1947); Bedae Venerabilis Expositio Actuum Apostolorum et Retractio (ed.) (Cambridge, 1939); A Hand-List of Bede Manuscripts (Ithaca, NY, 1943); The Greater Roman Historians, Sather Lectures 21 (Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1947); Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500-900 (New York, 1931; 3d ed., 1957); Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire (Ithaca, NY, 1951); The Intellectual Heritage of the Early Middle Ages, ed. Chester G. Starr (Ithaca, NY, 1957); more than 40 articles.

  • Notes:

    Laistner was one of the leading authorities of his day in ancient and early medieval history, though he traversed virtually every field of early Western history and thought from archaeology to ancient literature to medieval education. He and his mother moved to Ithaca, where they lived for 30 years. The successor of Carl Becker as Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell, he is best remembered for his general work, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500-900; his Sather lectures, The Greater Roman Historians; and his work on Bede's commentaries on the Bible. Students were impressed by the demanding exactness and diligence he both demonstrated and demanded. Colleagues recall that "as a person, he drew admiration for his high-mindedness, integrity, warm-heartedness, and capacity for friendship" and "the quality of mind that made his scholarship purposeful and exact shone out in his judgments on matters of principle, however slight or personal the topic." He retained his British citizenship and seemed ill-suited to the 20th century. "Not for him the automobile, the gramophone, or the radio. Even the telephone stirred him to loud abuse unless it served his purpose and then was hung up."

  • Sources:

    AmHistR 65 (July 1960) 1047; C.G. Starr, Gnomon 32 (1960) 90-91; Harry Caplan, Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Gaines Post, Speculum 35 (July 1960) 520; F. G. Marcham, Knight Biggerstaff, Harry Caplan, Cornell Memorial Notices (1960) 15-7; NYTimes (12 Dec. 1959) 23.

  • Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.