Carl Schorske, Historian

BERKELEY e-PLAQUE

Carl Schorske, Historian
(1915-2015)

Carl E. Schorske, eminent scholar, author, and gifted lecturer, taught European intellectual history at U.C. Berkeley during the politically turbulent decade of the 60s before leaving to teach history at Princeton. In 1966, while he was still in Berkeley, Time Magazine named Schorske one of ten outstanding American academicians.

He was no ordinary lecturer. His astute intellect and ability to discuss complex historical and philosophical ideas in simple straightforward language often made his classes “standing room only” events. “Bring your friends and tell them to bring their friends,” he announced, “the university must be as open as possible and available to everyone.”

Schorske was born in New York to an immigrant German family that spoke only German at home until it was unsafe to do so during WWI. He received degrees from Columbia and Harvard. His first book, German Social Democracy, examined the politics in Germany from 1905 to 1917. During WWII, Schorske served in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA, as chief of political intelligence for Western Europe.

His magnum opus, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize, was “Fin-de-Siècle Vienna,” a collection of seven essays written over a 20-year period that examined the relationship between politics and culture. The work covered an immense range of topics, including the architecture of the Ring Strasse, the plays of Arthur Schnitzler, the politics of Karl Lueger, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, and the paintings of Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, among others.

He sided with the student protests at U.C. Berkeley during the 60s Free Speech Movement. He cautioned against self-congratulation, warning that a strike against the University, a relatively benign target, had been an easy one. He also participated in the anti-Vietnam protests, joining fellow faculty members Noam Chomsky and Fredrick Crews in a three-day hunger strike in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.

Carl Schorske was a totally engaged man. One of his passions was music. He played violin, participating for many years in an amateur string quartet, and sang German lieder in a fine baritone voice (once during class). He was an excellent dancer, favoring especially the waltz.

As a fitting conclusion to an illustrious career, in 2012, the City of Vienna voted to make Schorske an honorary citizen. He died in 2015 at age 100. His wife of 70 years, the former Elizabeth Rorke, had died the previous year.

Contributed by James Samuels, 2017


  • Schorske (second from left) in quartet, photo via John V. Fleming

  • Shorske Residence (2017), photo R. Kehlmann

  • Fin-de-Siecle Vienna book cover

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society