On June 19, 2015 James McLachlan died of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), after a lengthy illness. He was born in Danbury, CT on March 9, 1932 and later was a student of Choate (Class of 1949) and Harvard (Class of 1953), majoring in History. After graduation he served in the U.S. Army in Germany in the 1950s. Upon his return to civilian life he enrolled first at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, then at Columbia University where he studied with Richard Hofstadter. He contributed to The Hofstadter Aegis: A Memorial, edited by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (A. Knopf, 1974). McLachlan’s doctoral dissertation became one of the seminal texts in the educational history discourse, American Boarding Schools (Chas Scriber’s, 1970). He taught American history at several universities including Fordham and Yale.
In the 1970s he worked closely with Prof Lawrence Stone of Princeton University and contributed to the published research out of the Shelby Cullum Davis Center for Historical Studies: The University in Society (1976) 2 vols. His own contribution to this compendium was “The Choice of Hercules: “ American Student Societies in the Early Nineteenth Century, ” which advanced the ongoing revision of the 19th century college. This subject he expanded in a widely discussed essay “The American College in the 19th Century,” published in the 1978 volume of Teachers College Record. In addition, he worked during this period on the ambitious Princeton alumni project of alumni biographies, not only producing definitive profiles of every graduate but a larger vision of history that could only emerge from collective biography, a topic that Prof. Stone had memorably dubbed “prosopography.” The resulting scholarship (with multiple authors) – Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary 5 vols. – became a model of its genre. McLachlan was principal author/editor of Volume One and contributed many of the profiles in that text. He was justly proud of profiles like that of Ashbel Green, an early Princeton president.
In the 1980s New York University’s Department of History appointed him an adjunct professor of history and encouraged his creation of a course in Material Culture, which enhanced that department’s pioneering Program in Public History. In these years also he became co-editor of The History of Education Quarterly, attracted by the journal’s decade-long effort to link the specialization of educational history (largely housed in Schools of Education) with the 1960s and 1970s breakthrough scholarship of American Social History (based in History departments which largely ignored education as a research subject). His own wide reading in American and European history greatly advanced this enterprise and broadened the discourse of both scholarly parties, particularly through the HEQ’s emphasis on essay reviews. At the time of his death he remained at work collecting information on an authoritative data bank of 18th century collegiate populations.
McLachlan never curtailed his wide reading of social and cultural history, even after his relocation from Princeton NJ to Chapel Hill, NC. His friends considered him a historian of an older school, one which they would say appreciatively drew upon a basic liberal arts education and which made him one of the best read historians of his generation. He was justly proud of his extensive library, which reached beyond his own historic specialty.
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In addition to his scholarly interests, McLachlan had two passions: one, the ballet, especially George Balanchine, and two, gardens, notably garden history and design. He and his wife visited many gardens in Europe and America and over forty-odd years created three of their own.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Parker McLachlan, emerita professor of Art History at Rutgers University, by his sister, Marcia McLachlan Dolan, and by two nieces Debbie Dolan and Pamela Dolan Spiewak.