Nef, John Ulric, 1899-

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Professor of economic history. Professor, Department of Economics, University of Chicago, 1929-1950; chairman and professor, Committee on Social Thought, 1945-1964.

From the description of Papers, 1909- [ca. 1970]. (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52246436

Writer, historian.

From the description of Reminiscences of John Ulric Nef : oral history, 1969. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122451879

Dr. John Ulric Nef, Jr. (1899-1988), though formally trained as an economic historian, is best known for scholarship which falls under the rubric of "cultural history." Nef primarily studied the economic, cultural, and military history of Western Europe since the end of the 15th Century.

He was born in Chicago, the only son of John U. Nef, Sr., whom William Rainey Harper brought from Clark University in 1891 as head professor of chemistry at the newly-formed University of Chicago. After his father's death in 1915 - his mother, Louise Comstock Nef, died in 1909 - John Nef lived as a member of the household of his guardian, George Herbert Mead. While there, he met Elinor Henry Castle, a niece of the Meads living with them while attending the University of Chicago. John and Elinor were married in 1921. They remained married until Elinor's death in 1953.

John Nef spent his first year of college at the University of Chicago, but he completed his work at Harvard (S.B., 1920). After several years of European travel with his wife, he returned to the United States and completed his Ph.D. at the Robert Brookings Graduate School, Washington, D.C. (a precursor of the Brookings Institution), in 1927. His first academic appointment was as Assistant Professor of Economics at Swarthmore College. In 1929, he was appointed to the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago; shortly thereafter his first book, The Rise of the British Coal Industry, appeared.

The emergence of the field of economic history provided Nef with relative freedom from the usual constraints of being identified with a single discipline. Consequently, he was able to follow his inclination to study civilization from an historical perspective, which related economics, philosophy, ethics, and the arts. In 1941-42 in association with Robert Maynard Hutchins, Robert Redfield, and Frank H. Knight, he founded and became executive secretary of a new interdisciplinary committee: the Committee on Social Thought. The idea for the Committee - originally conceived as a "Committee for the Study of Civilization" - was to foster original research without regard for conventional academic boundaries. Scholars and artists were invited to lecture under the auspices of the Committee and students were provided with both formal and informal opportunities to exchange ideas with these distinguished visitors. As an example of the scope of the Committee, participants during Mr. Nef's tenure included: H.S. Bennett, Jacques de Bourbon-Busset, Alfred Cobbon, Marc Chagall, Colin Clark, T.S. Eliot, Friedrich von Hayek, Marshall Hodgson, Harold Innis, Ernst Kantorowitz, Ernst Krenek, Jacques Maritain, Maurice Powicke, Artur Schnabel, Arnold Schoenberg, Andre Siegfried, Igor Stravinsky, R.H. Tawney, Arnold Toynbee, and Amos Wilder. Nef served as the Committee's chairman from 1945 to 1964.

During this time, opposition to the educational philosophy of President Hutchins arose, particularly in the natural science and philosophy departments. In 1944, the issue crystallized when a body of the University Senate sent a "Memorial" to the Board of Trustees expressing lack of confidence in the educational policies of President Hutchins. Both privately and publicly, John Nef was in the forefront of those supporting Robert Hutchins, and he remained supportive until Hutchins retired from the University in 1951.

After the end of World War II, John Nef shared with his friend Artur Schnabel reflections he had written about the need for cultivating international humanitarianism. Schnabel advised Nef to circulate his reflections to a wider audience. In its final form, the document "A Manifesto," was circulated among and signed by many distinguished citizens. It was printed by Henry Regnery and Company under the title Above All Nations is Humanity.

Throughout his life, John Nef had a special affection for French life and letters. In addition to honors bestowed upon him by the French Government (including being made an officer of the French Legion of Honor), his work has received particularly substantial acclaim from French scholars. In 1948, he was invited to lecture at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, and, in 1953, he returned to Paris to give a series of lectures at the Collège de France.

In 1958, the Center for Human Understanding was established by the University of Chicago under Mr. Nef's direction, and he served as chairman during the ten years of its existence. Until he retired from the University faculty in 1964, the headquarters of the Center for Human Understanding was at Chicago; from 1964 until 1968 the Center was maintained in Washington, D.C. Two books, the outgrowth of conferences held at the Center, appeared under Mr. Nef's editorship: Bridges of Human Understanding (1964) and Towards World Community (1968). In 1968 the Center for Human Understanding was formally dissolved and its functions taken over by the John and Evelyn Nef Foundation, founded in 1964 by John Nef and his second wife, Evelyn Stefansson Nef.

John Nef retired as professor and chairman of the Committee on Social thought in 1967. Shortly thereafter the Nefs moved to Washington, D.C., where Nef remained a member of a visiting committee of social scientists at the University of Chicago. In 1980, Nef was decorated with the University of Chicago Medal - the University's highest honor. He died in Washington, D.C. in 1988.

From the guide to the Nef, John Ulric, Jr. Papers, 1840-2008, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Nef, John U. (John Ulric), 1899-1988. John U. and Elinor Castle Nef papers, 1916-1921. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Mortimer Jerome Adler Papers TXRC93-A97., 1939-1944 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Records. 1939-1977. 1940-1968. Ocean County College Library, OCC Library
referencedIn Committee to Frame a World Constitution. Records, 1945-1951 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Castle, Mabel Wing. Papers, 1865-1957 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Owen Lattimore Papers, 1907-1997, (bulk 1950-1989) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Van Pappelendam, Laura. Papers, 1922-1961. University of Chicago Library
creatorOf Gabor, Dennis, 1900-1979. Correspondence, 1961-1969. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center
referencedIn Nef, Elinor Castle. Papers, 1891-1966 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Schütze, Eva Watson. Photographs, 1902-1929 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Lattimore, Owen, 1900-1989. Owen Lattimore papers, 1907-1997 (bulk 1950-1989). Library of Congress
referencedIn Nef, Elinor Castle, 1894 or 5-1953. Papers, 1865-1956. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Don Patinkin Papers, 1870-1995 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn University of Chicago. John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. Records, 1940-1984 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Barr, Stringfellow, 1897-1982. Papers of Stringfellow Barr, 1927-1968. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Nef, John Ulric, Jr. Papers, 1840-2008 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Committee to Frame a World Constitution. Records, 1945-1951 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
creatorOf Nef, John U. (John Ulric), 1899-1988. Reminiscences of John Ulric Nef : oral history, 1969. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn The Bruno Walter papers, ca. 1887-ca. 1966 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
referencedIn Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Papers, 1921-1969, (bulk 1938-1969) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Boris Souvarine papers, 1915-1984 (inclusive), 1940-1984 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Nef, Evelyn Stefansson. Papers, 1914-2010 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn University of Chicago. John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. University of Chicago John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought records 1940-1984 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
creatorOf Nef, John U. (John Ulric), 1899-1988. Correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, 1940. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-2001. Papers, 1939-1944. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig, 1886-1969. Papers of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1921-1969 (bulk 1938-1969). Library of Congress
creatorOf Nef, John U. (John Ulric), 1899-1988. Papers, 1909- [ca. 1970]. University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Eliot, Henry Ware, 1879-1947, collector. T. S. Eliot collection, 1881-1994. Houghton Library.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902- person
associatedWith Alinsky, Saul David, 1909-1972. person
associatedWith Barr, Stringfellow, 1897-1982. person
associatedWith Benton, William, 1900-1973. person
associatedWith Borgese, Elisabeth Mann. person
associatedWith Camus, Albert, 1913-1960. person
associatedWith Castle, Henry Northrup, 1862-1895 person
associatedWith Castle, Mabel Wing. person
associatedWith Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. person
associatedWith Committee to Frame a World Constitution. corporateBody
associatedWith Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion. corporateBody
associatedWith Cowley, Malcolm, 1898-1989. person
associatedWith Eliot, T. S. (Thomas Stearns), 1888-1965. person
associatedWith Eliot, Valerie. person
associatedWith Gabor, Dennis, 1900-1979. person
associatedWith Herrick, Robert, 1591-1674. person
associatedWith Hutchins, Robert Maynard, 1899-1977. person
associatedWith Huxley, Julian, 1887-1975. person
correspondedWith Lattimore, Owen, 1900-1989. person
associatedWith Lovett, Robert Morss, 1870-1956. person
associatedWith Luter, John, person
associatedWith Maritain, Jacques, 1882-1973. person
associatedWith Mason, Daniel Gregory, 1873-1953 person
associatedWith Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig, 1886-1969. person
associatedWith Morazé, Charles, 1913-2003 person
associatedWith Nef, Elinor Castle, 1894 or 5-1953. person
associatedWith Nef, Evelyn Stefansson, 1913-2009 person
correspondedWith Patinkin, Don person
associatedWith Redfield, Robert, 1897-1958. person
associatedWith Schnabel, Artur, 1882-1951. person
associatedWith Schütze, Eva Watson, 1867-1935 person
correspondedWith Souvarine, Boris. person
associatedWith Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965. person
associatedWith Szilard, Leo. person
associatedWith Toynbee, Arnold, 1889-1975. person
associatedWith University of Chicago. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Center for Human Understanding. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Committee on Social Thought. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Dept. of Economics corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Dept. of Economics. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. Dept. of History. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Chicago. John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought. corporateBody
associatedWith Van Pappelendam, Laura. person
associatedWith Walter, Bruno, 1876-1962 person
associatedWith Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
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Historians--Interviews
Authors--Interviews
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Birth 1899-07-13

Death 1988-12-25

English

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