March 22, 1938 – June 6, 2022
Professor of History Emeritus James Berg had a vast storehouse of knowledge of the historical literature in his own field of Africa as well as Britain and India. A faculty member from 1967–2006, his wide-ranging interests included Africa, India, and the United Kingdom. His courses included Mughal and British India, Pre-Colonial Africa, and Kenya.
Berg grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and earned his BA from the University of Michigan as well as his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin.
His published research included work on East African coastal regions, beginning with Portuguese colonization. He served as a research associate at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and held a prestigious Foreign Area Fellowship jointly awarded by the Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies.
He was a thoughtful and well-regarded teacher. Colleagues in the history department remember, above all, his kindness: the help given to a new director to navigate his first London Study Group; conversations with new colleagues in the Barge; his open office door and willingness to stop what he was doing and give advice; and his wonderful sense of humor. He loved to travel, especially to his beloved Greece. He was a notorious technophobe, perhaps the last holdout at Colgate against computers. When he retired, one of his colleagues received his typewriter, “which reminds me of him and his world often.” Generations of students remember him not only for his wide-ranging knowledge, but also for his genuine concern to help them succeed.
Until a few years prior to his death, Berg could be seen walking through the streets and sitting in the cafés of downtown Hamilton, talking to his many friends or simply reading the daily newspaper. He was living in Long Island, N.Y., at the time of his death. Berg will be remembered best by students, colleagues, and fellow Hamiltonians for his acute intelligence, generosity, fascinating travel stories, and gentle humor.
Lesleigh Cushing is Colgate’s provost and dean of the faculty. She also serves as the Murray W. and Mildred K. Finard Professor of Jewish studies and professor of religion.