Noted Archivist Dr. Howard B. Gotlieb DiesDec. 1, 2005

in Arts, BU In the Community, Humanities/Social Science, News Releases
December 2nd, 2005

Contact: Ann Deveney, 617/353-2240 | devenea@bu.edu
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Dr. Howard B. Gotlieb, a pioneer of collecting the personal papers and artifacts of living authors and public figures by educational institutions, died in Boston on Dec. 1, 2005 from complications following surgery. He was 79.

In 1963, Dr. Gotlieb was appointed Director of Special Collections at Boston University and charged with building the university’s holdings. The limited resources of the University at the time did not hamper a man of such richness of personality and with the bold vision to approach individuals who were still alive and collect their archives. Although some of his choices were considered idiosyncratic, Dr. Gotlieb, through flattery and charm, amassed a collection of some 2000 individuals in the fields of literature, criticism, journalism, drama, music, film, civil rights, diplomacy and national affairs. As a result of his talents, Boston University’s Department of Special Collections became recognized as one of the foremost archival repositories in the United States, with Dr. Gotlieb sometimes referred to as “the father of modern archiving.” To honor its founder, Special Collections was renamed the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center in October 2003 on its 40th anniversary.

Born on October 24, 1926 in Bangor, Maine, Howard Bernard Gotlieb discovered archival work as a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in post-war Germany. He was assigned to gather and collate the papers of various Nazi governmental entities. Dr. Gotlieb earned a bachelor’s degree in history from George Washington University and a master’s from Columbia University. He later did postgraduate work at Georgetown University and the London School of Economics before receiving his doctorate in International Relations from Great Britain’s Oxford University.

After a stint as a foreign correspondent for a small press agency in Europe, Dr. Gotlieb returned to the United States and joined the staff of Yale University as a teaching associate in history and as a curator of historical manuscripts and university archivist, a position he held for seven years. Recruited by Boston University in 1963, he undertook the creation of what was described by Library Journal as “an archive that was not only useful today but that in 100 years would allow researchers to write definitively about the 20th century.”

A sampling of the notable figures whose papers are housed in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center includes: Nobel Prize Winners Martin Luther King Jr. and Elie Wiesel; Isaac Asimov, Fred Astaire, Senator Edward W. Brooke III, Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Oriana Fallaci, Frances Fitzgerald, Joan Fontaine, Martha Gellhorn, Sue Grafton, David Halberstam, Angela Lansbury, Dame Alicia Markova, John Marquand, W. Somerset Maugham, Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, Dan Rather, and Richard Yates.

When reached for comment, David Halberstam noted: “Howard Gotlieb was an American original; wonderfully creative, always curious. He was far ahead of the curve in understanding the importance of the popular culture. In this he was prophetic. When he first asked me for my papers, I had just returned from Vietnam, and I thought he was kidding. Now some forty-one years and nineteen books later, I realize that he sensed something in me that I had not realized about myself. I loved dealing with him. Howard Gotlieb was subtle and joyous, a very special citizen of Boston, and he will be missed.”

Collectee Angela Lansbury said of Howard Gotlieb: “Howard’s generosity of spirit and enthusiastic pursuit of excellence in his life’s work leaves an irrevocable marker in the lives of all of us who knew and loved him.”

In addition, collectee Dan Rather wrote: “I consider Dr. Gotlieb a national treasure. He was a first rate scholar, a premium expert in his field, and a friend of mine for more than forty years. His passing will be deeply mourned by not just myself but by hundreds of others.”

A memorial service will be held at Marsh Chapel on the Boston University campus on January 6, 2006.

Dr. Gotlieb left no immediate family members.

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