TO THE EDITOR:
Nearly five years ago, I sat in a dusty Upham Hall classroom and glanced over the syllabus of “Hamilton and the Creation of the Republic,” which I had decided to take on a whim.
The professor strolled in and easily commanded the room with a warm touch. He had that wonderful mix of evident expertise and quick wit that makes for a great teacher. There was a humility in his approach that made him entirely accessible despite the extensive knowledge and experience gap between him and us. I knew within minutes that I had stumbled into another wonderful course at Miami University, and it ended up being one of the best that I took during my four years.
Dr. Andrew Cayton, who sadly passed away this weekend, was the wonderful professor teaching that Hamilton class.
Over the course of that semester, I learned that Dr. Cayton was a renowned scholar of Early American History and one of the most prized feathers in Miami University’s professorial cap. The impact of his work stretched far beyond Oxford, Ohio. In fact, I learned of his passing this weekend through a friend studying Early American History at Boston University who never met Dr. Cayton, nor stepped foot on Miami University’s campus.
This is a loss that is felt by historians far and wide. His impact cannot be understated; he was truly great at what he did. While the scholarly community will doubtlessly do a wonderful job of honoring Dr. Cayton for his research and writing, it is important to also take a moment to honor him as a wonderful teacher.
Throughout that spring 2011 semester, I practically skipped across campus to class. Dr. Cayton’s lectures were always entertaining, informative and funny. He’d act out famous quotes as he told stories, and he had a wonderfully seamless way of shifting from lecture to discussion and back on the fly that made each class feel organic. His feedback made us better writers and researchers. A compliment from Dr. Cayton felt akin to receiving a championship belt, and when he offered one it only pushed us to work harder. I will never forget the class that he pulled up an episode of Drunk History to show us the Hamilton skit they had done. Here was this legendary scholar of great esteem giggling with glee at Michael Cera’s version of Hamilton.
Dr. Cayton showed us that it was okay to openly have fun with your work. He loved Early American History, and his passion rubbed off on all of us. Dr. Cayton’s deft touch turned a class into a club, which is to say that the work never felt assigned; we wanted to learn more, and he gladly showed us the way.
My thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time. I hope they are able to take comfort in the knowledge that Dr. Cayton lives on through all of us that had an opportunity to learn from him and with him. We honor his memory best by matching his passion in our own work and infecting others around us with it. I am humbled to have known him for a few months one spring, and I know that, like so many other great Miami professors, his mark will not soon fade from those of us he touched. For proof of this, one need look no further than the walls of my bedroom where one solitary painting hangs: Alexander Hamilton at his desk drafting a letter.
Thank you Dr. Cayton. You will be missed.