In Memoriam: Morton "Mickey" Keller, 1929-2018
The History Department is saddened by the loss of our colleague and great friend, Morton “Mickey” Keller. Mickey was a vital presence in the department and the university from his arrival at Brandeis in the fall of 1964 through his retirement in 2001, and beyond. During that time, as his longtime colleague David Hackett Fischer recalls, he built and rebuilt the department several times over, making it better each time by recruiting historians “at the front edge of the field.” A proud veteran of the U.S. Navy, Mickey took as his great subject the history of American legal and political institutions, from the founding to the present day. Impatient with grand theories of modernization that did not square with the messier social and political realities of the American past, in his work he chronicled “the complex interplay between old and new.” He published well over a dozen deeply researched books on American public life, bringing his keen mind and lively prose to bear on subjects ranging from the nineteenth-century political cartoonist Thomas Nast to the New Deal state to the administration of Barack Obama (the latter in a book that he titled, in a typical Kellerism, The Unbearable Heaviness of Governing). During his years at Brandeis, Mickey brought the political past to life for countless undergraduates and he trained a truly stellar group of political and legal historians, who have carried the field in important new directions and trained many students of their own. An engaging raconteur, he loved a good joke and a fine glass of wine, which he and his wife and co-author, Phyllis Keller, shared freely in their Cambridge and Wellfleet homes with their many colleagues and friends. On the tennis court, Mickey was always driving forward, and his crosscourt forehand could be unforgiving. Of the historian’s craft, he once wrote, “My ultimate purpose is (or should be) every historian’s purpose: to apply present insight and perspective not to make the past more usable but to make it more comprehensible.” That Mickey Keller has done, many times over and very well. We shall miss him.