Elizabeth Eisenstein (October 11, 1923 – January 31, 2016) -- 3 tributes from Princeton Research Forum

Karen Reeds's picture

[Editor's note: Below are messages from members of the Princeton Research Forum concerning my mother, Elizabeth Lewisohn Eisenstein, author of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) who died at her Washington D.C. home on January 31, 2016.  Educated at Vassar and Harvard, Eisenstein was one of a new generation of post-World War 2 women scholars.  After teaching World History as an Adjunct Professor from 1959 to 1974, she became Alice Freeman Palmer Professor at the University of Michigan until her retirement in 1988. Following her retirement, she continued to be active as a scholar. Her other books included The First Professional Revolutionist: Fillippo Michele Buonarroti (1761-1837), (1959); Grub Street Abroad: Aspects of the French Cosmopolitan Press from the Age of Louis XIV to the French Revolution (1992); and Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West (2011).  She received the Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association in 2003 and many other academic awards and fellowships. A nationally-ranked senior woman tennis player, she was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Hall of Fame in 1999.  MED]


For years before Elizabeth Eisenstein reached fame for her major work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979), she was an adjunct professor; and she understood well both the problems and delights of being a scholar outside the academy. The three of us are deeply indebted to her example of mentorship, now carried on by her daughter, Margaret DeLacy, an independent scholar in Portland, Oregon, and H-Scholar editor. 

I mourn the recent loss of Elizabeth Eisenstein. Her foundational scholarship in book history was a special & early inspiration to me. I had the great good fortune of many Detroit-Ann Arbor intersections with Betty, dating from my earliest college days in Detroit in the '60s. 
-- Maureen E. Mulvihill  

My first meeting, as a young scholar, with Betty Eisenstein -- at her home in Washington, D.C., in the 70s -- is a treasured memory, and I take inordinate pride in being cited in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979).  Looking back, I can see that everything I've done as an editor and historian of science has been deeply influenced by her work.
-- Karen Reeds:  

My friendship with Betty Eisenstein goes back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when we were sharing our ideas and findings on the history of the book and citing each other's works.  I gave her examples of books and printing shops from France and urged her to seek such examples.  She gave me broad patterns to contemplate and my "Printing and the People" was my effort to respond to her brilliant and pioneering work.  (We both shook our head over Marshall McLuhans' exaggerations.)   Over the decades, we shared not only work, but family life.  We both had gone to women's colleges-- she to Vassar, I to Smith.   We were both of an early generation of post- WWII women who combined married life with scholarly work and writing, and we talked of our children and husbands and careers.  I heard of her sorrow when her son John passed away in his youth---she speaks of him in her introduction to Printing as an Agent of Change---and her delight in the achievements of Margaret, the splendid historian of medicine, and Ted.  And, in addition, Betty and her husband Julian were prize-winning tennis players well into their post sixties (Chandler and I, with our middling skills, never dared being with them on the court).  Betty Eisenstein's rich body of work, which has had such an impact world-wide, remains.  We will miss her wondrous smile, her energy, her laughter, her bubbling curiosity, and deep questioning. 
-- Natalie Zemon Davis

Maureen E. Mulvihill, Princeton Research Forum
Karen Reeds, Princeton Research Forum
Natalie Z. Davis, Princeton Research Forum Advisory Board