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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Faculty & Staff

Biographical sketch: professor Irving Rothman

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Professor Irving Rothman is in his 47th year of teaching in UH’s Department of English and has dedicated his career to the study of literature with a focus on Restoration-period and 18th-century works.

Rothman specializes in the literature of English novelist and political dissenter Daniel Defoe, and he frequently works as an editor with publishers at the University of Louisiana and AMS Press in New York. One of his latest efforts is a two-volume edition of Defoe’s “The Family Instructor,” originally published in 1718.

“I just spent a month and a half developing the index for volume one, and apparently they should be out at the end of 2014,” Rothman said. “Then we have the three volumes of ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ These are part of the Stoke Newington edition of ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ so I get to work with some of the best scholars in the world on Daniel Defoe.”

During his time as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, Rothman discovered his love for the works of Defoe.

“When I was a college student, one of my professors was James Sutherland. He was a visiting professor from the University of London, and he was the leading Defoe scholar in the world at the time,” Rothman said. “So I was able to study Defoe with Sutherland, and my interest just continued. Defoe also is a very practical writer. He wrote more poetry than John Milton.”

Rothman has also been a faculty member of the Jewish studies minor since its inception.

“I established a course called A Survey of Jewish-American Literature. A lot of the literature deals with immigrant life: what it means to come to America; how to get along in America when your family speaks one language, and you have to speak another language on the streets,” Rothman said. “Consequently, a lot of people in this course are not Jewish. The students — they’re Vietnamese, Chinese, they’re Hispanic, and the literature is very, very close to them because the question is how do you get along in a new country when your family is from Europe or a foreign land.”

Rothman has closely examined professions in literature with an emphasis on the role of the barber in society. In 2008, he published a book called “The Barber in Modern Jewish Culture: A Genre of Poetry, Places and Things,” and he is currently working on an annotated anthology of barbers and barbershops.

“There are about 3,200 items that I’ve collected for the annotated anthology on barbers at this point,” Rothman said. “Barbers are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere; you’re always reading about them, so it became an interesting subject.”

Rothman said his passion for literature was sparked during his senior year of high school.

“Our teacher introduced us to the poetry of Addison and Steele. So I became interested in 18th-century literature as a high school senior, and I’ve never lost my interest since that time,” he said. “Also in high school, I learned print shop, and I learned to set the type by hand. One of my specialties at UH is teaching the study of rare books, so I know how mistakes are made in rare books; I know how they’re put together, but it’s because I took this high school course. Believe it or not, my high school training had been very essential in my academic life as a professor.”

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