The University of Chicago has received new support for the study and teaching of early canonical works of English literature—a $2.5 million endowed gift to the Department of English Language and Literature from Randy Berlin, AM’77, and her late husband, Melvin. In recognition of that gift, the University has named the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Assistant Professorship of Renaissance and Early Modern English Literature: Masterpieces from 1500 to 1700.

The inaugural holder of the Berlin assistant professorship is Timothy Harrison, a member of UChicago’s English faculty since 2014. Harrison’s work in early modern literature also encompasses philosophy, theology, and the sciences. His first book is titled Coming To: Consciousness and Natality in Early Modern England (University of Chicago Press, 2020).

“I am excited to see what Timothy will accomplish with this support,” says Randy Berlin. “The intent of this special faculty position is to keep classic texts of English literature alive—some of the greatest works ever written—ensuring they are taught so that students now and in the future can enjoy and profit from them.”

“We are grateful for Randy and Melvin’s extraordinary commitment to advancing ideals of humanistic excellence,” says Dean of the Humanities Division Anne Walters Robertson. “This new gift will support an early career scholar who will follow in the footsteps of UChicago faculty such as John Matthews Manly; Edith Rickert, PhD 1899; David Bevington; and Richard Strier.”

Manly and Rickert produced the definitive edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the 1940s; Bevington and Strier advanced understanding of English literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through close readings of works by Shakespeare, Herbert, and Milton and a comprehensive understanding of the cultural contexts in which these artists wrote.

At the time of Melvin’s death in 2019, the Berlins had been married for 71 years. Randy, a life member and past chair of the Humanities Division Council, holds a master’s degree in English from the University. She practiced law in Chicago and has served as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. Melvin, a Chicago native, was a driven and creative entrepreneur, founding, growing, and ultimately selling two companies in the area: Berlin Metals and Berlin Packaging. The couple formed a close team, making decisions together about what causes to support and taking joy in using their resources to enrich others’ lives. Randy describes them as being “of one mind” in their philanthropy.

Dedicated patrons of the arts in Chicago and of the Humanities at UChicago, the Berlins previously created the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professorship of the Development of the Novel in English and the University’s annual Berlin Family Lecture series, which bring luminaries from the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences to campus for a series of three to five lectures each year. Past speakers include legal scholar Lawrence Lessig, Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, and MacArthur “genius” architect Jeanne Gang. In May 2020, Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen—a leading voice during the coronavirus crisis and former dean of the Division of the Humanities—delivered her Berlin lectures virtually.

“Randy Berlin’s visionary decision to support young scholars of Renaissance literature allows the English Department to stay at the cutting edge of the discipline,” says Deborah Nelson, the Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English. “At the same time, it helps ensure that UChicago’s legacy in early English scholarship continues.”

Photo Creds: 
Photography by John Zich