In 1964 Robert Kaske (M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1951, University of North Carolina) and his wife, Carol (Ph.D., English, Johns Hopkins) were hired by the English Department. Kaske, who played baseball at UNC and later served in World War II, was a specialist on Beowulf, Chaucer, Dante, and patristic exegesis. A Falstaffian figure, he was popular with students. Although he was trained in the methods of New Criticism–the close reading of texts with little or no attention to historical context, Kaske argued that medieval texts merit close attention to their intellectual, political, and religious context and to the expectations and experiences of the medieval reader—as reflected inter alia in iconography. Those contexts were the subject of his renowned bibliography seminar. The atmosphere in these seminars has been described as follows by Emerson Brown, a student of Kaske’s in the 1960s and later a Chaucer scholar at Stanford and Vanderbilt: “Our heads were dizzy with learning and with ideas… and we helped one another in our sometimes bizarre researches… We called or dropped in unannounced to seek his help with passages of impossible Latin, to refine our growing knowledge of scholarly bibliography, or to consult one of his old books or borrow one of his newer ones. His extraordinary library… was not a private preserve, but a continual source of help for his students and colleagues” (Obituary for Robert Kaske, New York Times, August 8, 1989).
Robert E. Kaske in His Office with His Dog
Portrait Published in Cornell Alumni News, May 1976
Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, ARP 505