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George Lincoln Burr's Biography (Books)

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George Lincoln Burr (January 30, 1857 - 1938) was a U.S. historian, diplomat, author, and educator, best known as a Professor of History and Librarian at Cornell University, and as the closest collaborator of Andrew Dickson White, the first President of Cornell.

Burr was born in Albany, New York and entered the Cortland Academy in 1869, where he first met Andrew Dickson White, who was guest speaker for its 50th anniversary. The financial Panic of 1873 wreaked havoc on his family's finances, and he was forced to leave school and seek employment at age 16. After a brief stint as a schoolmaster, he apprenticed as a printer of The Standard at Cortland. After 4 years, he had saved $200, sufficient for him to matriculate at Cornell in 1877. As a sophomore, Burr audited a course for seniors taught by White on the historical development of criminal law, and received permission to sit for the exam. Prof. White was so impressed by Burr's exam answers that he secretly appointed Burr as his examiner (i.e., grader) in history. White writes in his Autobiography,' "Of course this was kept entirely secret; for had the Seniors known that I had entrusted their papers to the tender mercies of a Sophomore, they would probably have mobbed me."

After his graduation in 1881, Burr accepted White's offer to serve as an instructor and examiner in modern history, and also as White's private secretary. This was the beginning of a literary partnership that lasted until White's death in 1918. Under White's tutelage, Burr developed into a scholar of medieval history. After traveling and studying in Switzerland, France, and Germany, Burr was appointed to the Cornell faculty in 1888. He was made Professor of Medieval History in 1892. In 1919, he was elected John Stambaugh Professor of History.

As the librarian of Andrew Dickson White's historical rare book collection from 1880 to 1922, Burr built Cornell's manuscript and rare book collections in the areas of witchcraft, the Reformation, and the French Revolution. His single most famous contribution in this area was his discovery in 1885, in the library at the University of Trier, of the Loos Manuscript (1592), one of the first books written in Germany against the witch trials of the late 16th century, and long believed destroyed by the Inquisition.

This discovery led Burr to abruptly leave his studies in Europe to return to New York with the manuscript. He never earned any higher degree beyond his A.B. from Cornell. (His higher degrees are all honorary ones: LL.D.s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1904 and from Washington College in 1907, and a Litt.D. from Western Reserve, now Case Western, in 1905).

Burr's most noted contributions came from his teaching and service work. He served as co-editor of the American Historical Review from 1905-1915 with J. Franklin Jameson, was a member of the American Historical Association, and served as its President in 1916. He served as historical consultant for the U. S. Commission appointed by U.S. President Grover Cleveland to settle a boundary dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana. The commission included two university presidents, Andrew Dickson White of Cornell and Daniel Coit Gilman of Johns Hopkins, and White suggested that Burr be appointed to research the history and geography of the disputed territory. This assignment took Burr to archives in The Hague and London. He was also sent thousands of pages from the Venezuelan government, and in the end, this effort occupied much of his time from 1896-1899. His friend and colleague J. Franklin Jameson pronounced the Venezuela Boundary Commission report "as fine a piece of historical research and criticism as ever was buried in a government report."

George Lincoln Burr's Bibliography

Works by George Lincoln Burr:

- Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, edited by G. L. Burr, 1914, New York: C Scribner's Sons, or Reprint, Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2002. Also available online at Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, e-text, University of Virginia
- "The Freedom of History" (Burr's 1916 Presidential address to the American Historical Association), The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 2. (Jan., 1917), pp. 253-271. Also available online at The Freedom of History, American Historical Association
- Venezuela-British Guiana Boundary Commission, Appointed by the President of the United States "to investigate and report upon the true divisional line between the Republic of Venezuela and British Guiana." Reports. Washington, DC: Government Print Office, 1897.
- New England's Place in the History of Witchcraft. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Works in which George Lincoln Burr's notes are cited as basis:

- Hulme, Edward Maslin (1923), The Renaissance, the Protestant Revolution and the Catholic Reformation in Continental Europe, New York: The Century Press
- Hulme, Edward Maslin (1929), The Middle Ages, New York: H. Holt

Works about George Lincoln Burr:

- George Lincoln Burr: His Life, by Roland H. Bainton; Selections from His Writings, edited by Lois Oliphant Gibbons. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1943.
- Persecution and Liberty; Essays in Honor of George Lincoln Burr. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1968.
- Great Teachers : Portrayed by Those Who Studied under Them, edited / with an introduction by Houston Peterson, (1955), New York: Vintage Books

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