1981 Metcalf Cup & Prize

Sidney Burrell, CLA

sidney-burrell1Sidney Burrell’s excellence has been demonstrated again and again in his fifteen distinguished years at Boston University. In his courses on the crisis of the British monarch, the history of modern Ireland, and the historical imagination, he rivets his students through lectures that depend on the power and drama of the ideas he is articulating. He makes not the slightest concession to popularity, yet is popular because he produces one of the most enthralling intellectual experiences available to an undergraduate at Boston University.

He is especially apt at revealing the historical importance of great as well as small things, as he relates wind and rainfall patterns to the British economy, or the eccentric upbringing of a carpenter who became the Master of the Dockyards to the defeat of the Armada.

It is a cliche that teachers make history live, but a generation of students have reminded us that this is precisely what Professor Burrell does. Cliches are sometimes founded in truth.

His influence on students is lifelong. Dozens of unsolicited letters from his students attest to this fact, some of them from students a decade or more back. One of these is typical: “I would like to thank you for awakening in me the spirit of the mind…you have given me something which I shall have for the rest of my life, an intellectual curiosity and a desire to stretch my mind.”

Between the intellectual sweep of his mind and his rigorous command of the facts, between his challenging, almost mesmerizing classroom style and his subtle guidance of individual students, Sidney Burrell has shown what excellent teaching ought to be.