NIU mourns Alfred F. Young

Retired professor influenced field of early American history

Alfred F. Young

Alfred F. Young

Alfred F. Young, a professor emeritus in NIU’s Department of History and pioneer in the field of early American history, died Nov. 6, in Durham, N.C., according to a published obituary. He was 87.

Young was a past recipient of the award for distinguished service in the historical profession from the Organization of American Historians. In 2010, he was named as a recipient of the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Faculty Award.

Indeed, Young’s influence on the field of early American history and on NIU is still felt today.

By focusing on ordinary people during the American Revolution, his research and writing transformed the study of early America, and was instrumental in building the scholarly reputation of the NIU history department.

“In addition to reshaping the field of early American history, Al Young was also devoted to teaching,” says Beatrix Hoffman, chair of history. “Several of his graduate students became prominent historians, and he was instrumental in creating our department’s Senior Thesis course. Many of us still use the methods he developed for teaching historical research skills to undergraduates.”

After completing his graduate work at Columbia and Northwestern, and teaching in eastern colleges, Young began his 25-year career at NIU in 1964.

Book cover of "The American Revolution," edited by Alfred F. YoungThroughout his career, he made efforts to share history with lay audiences.

During the nation’s bicentennial, he traveled the country to show a slideshow on artisans of the Revolution to union workers and other audiences. As part of the American Social History Project, he collaborated on a video about George Robert Twelves Hewes, a Boston shoemaker in the Revolution. He also served as co-curator of the Chicago Historical Society’s long-running exhibit, “We the People,” on display from 1987 to 2005.

His essay collections, “The American Revolution” (1976) and “Beyond the American Revolution” (1993), highlighted the work of a new generation of historians, many of whom became leaders in the discipline. The collections themselves helped establish the NIU Press as a major publisher of early American history.

Young authored many other books, articles and essays, including “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution” (2000) and “Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier” (2005). He also was co-editor of a recent collection of essays, “Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals and Reformers in the Making of the Nation” (2012).

In retirement, he was Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, until 2005.

Young is survived by his wife of 60 years, Marilyn (Mills), and three daughters. A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Duke Hospice, Hock Family Pavilion, 4023 North Roxboro Road, Durham, N.C.,. 27704.

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