The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) offers annually summer internships for undergraduates or recent graduates to participate in the intellectual life of the AHI while also performing a wide variety of other tasks. David T. Isserman, a recent graduate of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, filled the role. His duties included helping to catalogue the Eugene Genovese book collection, organizing files, assisting AHI resident fellow Mary Grabar in her research, and helping charter fellow Douglas Ambrose edit Genovese’s posthumous book, “The Sweetness of Life.”
David grew up in Clinton, New York, not too far from what would become AHI headquarters, nourished, as he says, by a “a healthy diet of history lessons, science-fiction novels, country/folk music, and mountain climbing.” The regimen should not surprise, for David is the son of Maurice Isserman, a prize-winning historian and avid mountain climber, co-author of Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes (2010). The elder Isserman serves on AHI’s Board of Academic Advisors and has been a supporter since its founding in 2007. He is also the author of numerous works on the political history of the American left.
David shares his father’s interest in political history. His senior thesis, “Red Liberation: National Minorities in the Communist Party of Canada and the Communist Party of the United States 1919-1945,” compared black Southerners’ interactions with communists to those of the Quebecois (French-Canadians) and communists. He found that there was greater alienation between the Quebecois and the communists due to the Catholic religious faith of the Quebecois and the fact that the communist leadership was English-speaking. He first became interested in the topic while taking a course on Canadian communism from Professor Peter Campbell; he saw a parallel between the Canadian and American groups, especially in relation to the labor movement.
His experience at Queen’s University led him to decide to dedicate more time to writing and political activity. David became an active member of the New Democratic Party, a Canadian social-democratic party, which, until the recent election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was the official opposition party in Parliament. In his senior year, David was a founding member and editor of the alternative campus newspaper, University and Union. He also spent two months in England on an archeological dig at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex in the summer of his second year.
David had spent time living abroad while his father taught on two exchanges. As a three-year-old, he lived with his parents and older sister, Ruth, in Moscow, and then as a seven-year-old in Oxford. Along the way, he learned to play the guitar. He plans to attend graduate school for an MA, and possibly a PhD, in British history, and will begin the application process this fall. David has also devoted part of his time this summer interning at the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters (MAMI), working with MAMI outreach and translation teams as a researcher and “office go-fer.” He said he would like to use skills learned to teach English abroad and work with immigrants involved in the labor movement.
David has appreciated the opportunity to intern at AHI. “I have been taught some very good research skills and how to maintain and catalogue books, as well as about black conservatism,” he said. Resident Fellow Mary Grabar said she welcomed David’s perspective and knowledge about blacks and communism as she writes a book (under contract with Northern Illinois University Press) on the conservative black activist George S. Schuyler. Schuyler, an influential journalist and novelist, transitioned during his adult life from socialism to conservatism. “David volunteers to help wherever he sees it might be needed. He has been a pleasure to work with and of great assistance in compiling and summarizing Schuyler’s prodigious output,” she said.
“You could not find a more pleasant and accommodating intern than David Isserman,” said AHI Executive Director Robert Paquette. “He does everything from the menial to the intellectual with courtesy and an engaging smile.”
By Mary Grabar