Professor Silberman came to the Department of Political Science in 1975 after having taught at Oberlin College, the University of Arizona, and Duke University. Here at the University of Chicago, he served as Master of the Social Sciences College Division and Associate Dean of the Graduate Division of the Social Sciences from 1978 to 1981 and Chair of the Department of Political Science, his intellectual home, from 1982 to 1985 and again for one year in 1992. Silberman was also Director of the Center for East Asian Studies from 1991 to 1992.
In the late 1990’s, Silberman began offering a series of courses for the Political Science major that he coined as a “kind of anti-core.” In these courses, “Losers,” “To Hell with the Enlightenment,” and “Springtime for Hitler,” students were “encouraged to look at the world in a different way, to consider motivations and ideas that do not fit neatly into the demands of rational thought.” Silberman also taught courses on “Japanese Politics,” “Organization, Ideology, and Political Change,” and “Modern Japanese Politics and Political Development.” In 2001, Silberman was the Social Sciences Division’s recipient of the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Silberman was born in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Wayne State University and received his PhD from the Department of History at the University of Michigan. Over his long career, his research was supported with grants from Fulbright, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Spencer Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. In1987, he was the Lady Davis Visiting Professor in Politics at Hebrew University.
Silberman was the author of Cages of Reason: The Rise of the Rational State in France, Japan, the United States, and Great Britain (University of Chicago Press, 1993); Ministers of Modernization: Elite Mobility in the Meiji Restoration, 1868-1873 (University of Arizona Press, 1964), and Japan and Korea: A Critical Bibliography (University of Arizona Press, 1962). With Harry D. Harootunian (Max Palevsky Professor Emeritus, Department of History), he co-edited Modern Japanese Leadership Transition and Change (University of Arizona Press, 1966) and Japan in Crisis: Essays on Taisho Democracy (Princeton University Press, 1975).
At the time of his death, Silberman was researching the rationalization of private, large-scale organizations in Great Britain, United States, Japan, France, and Germany in the 1870-1955 and on the concept of political modernism as distinct from modernization, especially with regard to the problem of fascism in Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Silberman will be greatly missed by our department. As John Mearsheimer fondly recollects, “Bernie was an old order kind of guy. His parents were anarchists from Russia and he grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Detroit, where he became a Golden Gloves boxer and went to the local university — Wayne State. He was also deeply loyal to his family, his friends and to the University. He was the kind of person you would want next to you in a foxhole when the bullets started flying."
Our thoughts and condolences are with his wife Pauline as well as their family and friends.