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Farewell to Jack Betterly



     Much to the sadness of the world history community, WHC board member Jack Betterly passed away on March 7, 2008. Jack provided wonderful support for WHC from its very inception. His praise was frequent; his criticisms and suggestions just and fair. When Cynthia Ross, former assistant editor to WHC, heard the news about Jack, she offered the following thoughts that beautifully capture how the WHC team felt about him:

     Unfortunately, I never met Jack Betterly in person but we communicated through email quite often when I was the Assistant Editor of World History Connected (2004-2007). Jack was invariably in good spirits and liked to end his emails with short, witty closures that made me think his eyes were twinkling with delight. I often saw messages from him in the Inbox volunteering to write a review for any book the journal had available and frequently suggesting some of his favorite titles. Jack was also an avid reader of each WHC issue published, letting us know which particular articles were the most useful or thought provoking. Between my communication with him as a book reviewer for WHC, a member of the Editorial Board, and as an educator deeply engaged in learning and teaching about humanity, I will always remember Jack fondly.

     With the permission of David Kalivas, editor of H-World, WHC has reproduced the initial notice of Jack's death and the responses from readers that appeared on H-World in March. We offer this as a tribute to Jack, who cared deeply about world history as both a scholar and a teacher. He will be sorely missed.

Heather Streets, Co-editor

Tom Laichas, Co-editor


**********H-WORLD EDITOR'S NOTE**************

The following news is relayed to subscribers with great sadness.

H-World will miss Jack's contributions.


From: Bernard Weinraub
The Waverly School

I'm writing to inform members of this list that Jack Betterly, a frequent poster to the list and a member of the Board of World History Connected, died on Friday, March 7. He had been in the hospital for more than two months, battling complications after cardiac surgery. Jack decided, in his clear-minded, firm way, that the battle had been long enough, asked that he be taken off the ventilator, and died peacefully and painlessly a short time later.

Jack was my dearest friend and valued colleague for thirty-five years. Twice tonight I read articles and wanted to send them to him for his reactions, which were sometimes unpredictable but always valuable. His posts to this list have given many of you, I hope, a sense of his mind, and of his character. Over the last several years I have followed many threads in which Jack engaged contentiously with other members. I suspect that those who found him sometimes irritating, and those who admired him, were the same people. He would have wanted nothing more.

I shall miss him terribly. I rely on the members to fill the gap he has left among us.


From: David Kalivas

I only met Jack Betterly once in person, it was back in the late 1990s in Boston. However, over the past ten years via our communications on H-World as well as off-list, we came to know one another in a way that I never thought possible via email exchanges. As debates ensued on the list, Jack would always offer genuine contributions and I'd also receive private notes that were often witty and fun as well as serious and purposeful as he made an extra point or two. As he engaged H-World, Jack was always kind and generous in his communications. I will miss him, his charm, his wit, his willingness to stand up and be heard on H-World and simply miss his being part of the journey with all of us.

The H-World editors invite others to offer their remembrances of Jack Betterly to memorialize him for sure, but to also celebrate him as we knew him on this listserv. Some have already done so and as others do so, I will collect them and put them into a single post and then send the collected posts to his family so they may have another testimony to comfort and offer another memory of the late Jack Betterly. I am saddened for his passing and was glad to have known him in some small way.

From: Philipe Fernandez-Armesto
Tufts University

The pleasure and sense of privilege I get from the chance to take part in H-World's forum on my book (The World) are enormous – but profoundly scarred by sadness, because of Jack Betterly's death. Jack was a consummate human being, full of candor and kindness. Even when I disagreed with his opinions, I relied on his judgment and wisdom. All of us who learned from him – the pupils he taught, the friends he shared with – will keep him in mind for as long as we live, and pass our appreciation on to others. It's a humbling reflection for me that his critique of my book must have been one of the last things Jack wrote for publication. I'm proud to have his good opinion.

From: Marc Ferguson
Adjunct Professor of History
American International College

This is truly a huge loss. I have primarily been a lurker here, with occasional participation, for several years, and I must admit that when Jack's name appeared at the head of a post, I paid special attention. He was clearly a man of great intelligence, and even over this often flat medium of internet discussion groups he came through as a remarkable personality with unique insight and great depth and compassion. I will miss his presence.

From: David M. Fahey
Miami University (Ohio)

I met Jack only once (at a WHA conference in Boston), but I know him fairly well through his H-World posts, his contributions to World History Connected, and his occasional private emails. He was not reluctant to state a contrary opinion or to place it in the context of his own life's journey, but at the same time he always was respectful of others and entirely lacked arrogance. He was a stalwart of the world history movement. More important, he was a genuinely good man.

Joe Lapsley
University of Illinois at Chicago

I am only an occasional contributor to H-World, but I always appreciated Jack Betterly's comments. They were often a combination of historical thinking and humane values that I aspire to myself.

Kim Klimek

I met Jack in New Mexico several times and once at a conference. The first time I met him, despite being a transplant, he seemed to belong in the wide landscapes and large personalities that fill that state. He was incredibly kind and encouraging to me, and came to hear me present a paper on medieval women and philosophy. Despite it being far from his own study, his questions and comments were well placed and insightful. We talked long after my presentation. I was new to teaching world history and wary of its meaning and purpose. His comments to me about it opened my eyes to the meaningful ways it could be approached. I think of his answers often in my own teaching now. As an educator and a person, Jack was open, larger-than-life, and kind. I am saddened to hear of his passing and I will miss his posts here on this list.

From: Alfred J. Andrea
The University of Vermont

News of Jack Betterly's death distresses me. I knew him for many years and deeply respected him as a scholar, a teacher, a thinker, and, most important of all, a warm and caring human being. I had the good fortune to visit several of Jack's classes at the Emma Willard School and to meet with him and his students in both formal and informal venues. He struck me as being the epitome of what a teacher should and must be. The young ladies whom he instructed were certainly well versed in the intricacies of global history, but more important, they had come into contact with a warm and generous man who cared deeply about their development as mature, thinking individuals. Jack, I sorely miss you.

Michelle Peck Williams
Paul Laurence Dunbar HS, Lexington, KY USA

Although I never met him in person, I learned a great deal from Jack Betterly over the years. I believe he was the person who "invented" the graded discussion format that I use often with all my classes, not just AP. He didn't just teach us about teaching, or about Buddhism, but about life. He didn't just make his students think--he made US think. He was always the first one to speak up with the "alternative" perspective and the Anthro major in me LOVED that about him. I will miss him greatly.

If you're new to the list and didn't know Jack, you might check out these resources for some words of wisdom from one of the best: for Graded Discussion for more info on Jack's philosophy of teaching

Paula Titon
Cranstion HS West

No one call fill the gap we have now that Jack isn't on the AP World site. For me he was a kindred spirit but always wiser and with the spark of humor. He I have missed him on the list the past few months and I will treasure my memories of his contributions to us all and to me personally.

From: Jonathan T. Reynolds
Northern Kentucky University

Jack was ever the gentleman and the scholar. His presence on H-World made it a better place, and I suspect that can be said for the plain ol' world, too.

Kudos, Jack, and farewell.

From: Marc J. Gilbert
Hawaii Pacific University

It is hard to find
Bodhisattvas on H-Net.
Now it is harder.


From: Pat Manning, World History Network
University of Pittsburgh

I am among those who met Jack Betterly but once in person (at the 2000 WHA conference in Boston), but developed strong feelings of admiration for him and kinship with him. He participated in H-WORLD from its early days, and I have reproduced (below) one of his earliest postings, an elegant summary of contending meanings of "history."

Jack was dependable, learned, and insightful, but he was also flexible.

As I recall, he was initially quite critical of the idea of AP World History, favoring a more wide-ranging and less structured course. But since the AP World discussion list became the place where the action was among teachers of world history, he was right there. I am sure we'll be hearing from his students in more ways than we suspect.

From: John Betterly, Emma Willard School
List Editor: "Patrick Manning, Northeastern University"
Author's Subject: paradigms
Date Posted: Wed, 5 Jun 1996

E. H. Carr pointed out a long time ago that one of the problems in dealing with historical issues is that we use the word "history" to mean very different things, and that we are rarely careful designating what meaning is being discussed, using them interchangeably and sloppily.

Here are three very different meanings which need to be kept in mind in approaching the question of paradigms. Let's just call them History A, B and C:

1. History A: An objective past which is assumed to have at one time existed but which is never directly accessible. It would be virtually infinite, for any event in the chronicle would be infinitely subdivisible into smaller events or combined with others into larger events.

2. History B: A subjective, imagined description existing in the present of an assumed objective past (History A).

3. History C: The discipline or craft of imagining the past. This Involves observing alleged artifacts, traces, documents, or memories existing in the present.

This "evidence" is extremely finite, random and minimal and must be tenuously extrapolated using inductive reasoning. The making of a paradigm of History A is "doing" History C. The paradigm itself becomes an example of History B; it is the same thing as a scientific hypothesis and, like a scientific hypothesis, it is tentative, must be in some way predictive, and is extrapolated from observed evidence.

Fred Spier has obviously been influenced a good deal by his scientific background. It occurs to me that, if one considers science in the same terms - i.e., Science A, Science B, and Science C - there is less difference between our two fields than might be supposed. More importantly, I would suggest that the most important paradigms in science over the past four centuries have been less often paradigms of Science A than they have been paradigms of Science C. The Scientific Revolution has had more to do with how one views "doing science" than it has had to do with grand speculations about what is out there to do it on. Furthermore, I suspect our paradigms of how one "does history" are not that different. (It is no accident that Kuhn has always been of such fascination to historians.)



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