David Halliburton, Stanford professor emeritus of English and founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning, has died

Halliburton will be remembered as a dedicated teacher, a sedulous scholar and a skilled administrator who forged new ways of thinking about interdisciplinary studies.

David Garland Halliburton, professor emeritus of English, died June 2 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 80 years old.

David Garland Halliburton portrait

David Halliburton (Image credit: Courtesy Jyllian Halliburton)

A scholar, teacher and administrator, Halliburton not only published widely on literature and philosophy but also taught and mentored legions of students for 40 years. He was involved in the formation of centers and programs at Stanford that advanced both teaching and interdisciplinary scholarship and was deeply committed to preserving the connections between literature and art, history and culture.

An interdisciplinary scholar

Halliburton began teaching American literature in the Stanford English Department in 1966. His broad scholarship explored the relationship between philosophical concepts and literary works. The texts of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Crane were as compelling to him as the writings of philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Thomas Hobbes and Hannah Arendt.

Whether it was his first book, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton University Press, 1973), or his subsequent volume, Poetic Thinking: An Approach to Heidegger (University of Chicago Press, 1981), Halliburton elucidated philosophical ideas, making them accessible to non-philosophers and literary critics.

In The Color of the Sky: A Study of Stephen Crane (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Halliburton shed light on the relationship between Crane’s writings to the ideas of philosophers like William James, Max Weber and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Herbert Lindenberger, also an emeritus professor of English at Stanford, remembered Halliburton as a “great talent” with an “uncanny ability to get ‘under the skin’ of texts.”

“After reading one of Halliburton’s analyses, or hearing it presented in a seminar,” Lindenberger said, “you felt he had convincingly uncovered deep strata of meanings you could never have seen without his mediation.”

Halliburton’s final book was The Fateful Discourse of Worldly Things (Stanford University Press, 1997), an interdisciplinary and comparative study of how we discursively “make” the world and its objects. It is considered Halliburton’s major work because “he was able to establish connections among a large number of thinkers by means of the critical method he had worked out to study the individual figures who were the subjects of his earlier books,” explained Lindenberger.

The Fateful Discourse of Worldly Things was intended to be the first of a two-volume work, but as Halliburton began to write the second volume – about the representations of revolutions and war – he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, making it a challenge to complete the project. His last writings, however, have been compiled, and plans are underway to publish them posthumously.

An influential teacher

In addition to his notable work as a scholar, Halliburton was an engaged and active teacher with a unique ability to open up difficult texts for students.

“He was at his best in a seminar situation, for he succeeded marvelously in drawing out students to reveal what was going on in a text. The many students who responded to his mode of teaching constitute a loyal corps that has sung his praises over the years,” Lindenberger said.

Lindenberger also described Halliburton as an outstanding dissertation director.

“Over the years he directed an uncommonly large number of doctoral dissertations in both English and in Modern Thought and Literature, and many of these dissertations were turned into notable books. Just as he had a special talent for drawing students out in his seminars, so he helped dissertation students discover their particular talents and to exploit these talents in ways that, without his encouragement, they might never have done.”

Helen Brooks, senior lecturer emerita in the Stanford English Department and an affiliate of the Program in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, was one such doctoral student. She cited Halliburton’s vast knowledge of both literature and philosophy as an ongoing resource in her own scholarship.

“He possessed remarkable skill in rigorously grounding literary and philosophical studies in their interdisciplinary and cultural contexts, so important for today’s scholarship and teaching,” Brooks said, adding, “Professor Halliburton will be greatly missed, while his contributions to the humanities will live on.”

A skilled administrator

Halliburton also made numerous contributions to the university as an administrator. He founded Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) in 1975, one of the first centers of its kind to promote the advancement of college and university teaching.

In a tribute to Halliburton on the CTL website, Michele Marincovich, senior adviser to the vice provost for undergraduate education and a former CTL director, said Halliburton was instrumental in launching the center and “connecting a research-oriented faculty with the importance – and joys – of effective teaching.”

“David had a wonderful sense of humor,” Marincovich recalled. “He also never seemed rushed or flustered or bothered by anything. I particularly remember when History Corner was being refurbished and David’s office at the old Center for Teaching and Learning faced the dust, disorder and clanging noise of the construction. David would sit in there calmly getting work done, reminding me of Dante sitting at a table right in the noisy streets of Florence and writing his poetry before exile forced him out of the city he loved. … [Halliburton’s] powers of concentration and dedication made him oblivious,” Marincovich said.

Halliburton used interdisciplinary methods to encourage the intellectual and pedagogical renewal of the humanities at the university. For instance, he helped broaden Stanford’s curriculum through his involvement with the first interdisciplinary PhD program – the Program in Modern Thought and Literature. Along with the late Albert Guerard, a faculty colleague in the Department of English, Halliburton helped develop the program and served as its chair from 1980 to 1985.

A full life

Born in San Bernardino, California, in 1933, Halliburton was raised and educated in Southern California. After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Riverside, Halliburton served in the U.S. Armed Forces from 1953 to 1957. When he returned from his Army posting, he enrolled in a new doctoral program at UC Riverside and became one of the first students to earn a doctorate in English from that institution.

Halliburton met his wife, Mary Ann, to whom he was married for 54 years, while working at the Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside, where they both served as staff reporters. They married in 1960. Once at Stanford, they spent many years living and traveling abroad including trips to England and Austria through the Overseas Studies Program. In 2000, they bought a house in Languedoc, France, and spent six summers exploring southern France.

According to Halliburton’s son, Murphy Halliburton, his father had been living since 2009 in a retirement community in Portola Valley, where he spent time listening to jazz and classical music or reading from his exhaustive collection of books. Halliburton also described his father as an enthusiastic follower of professional and collegiate sports who never lost his interest in news and reporting and read the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle daily.

“His favorite moments, however, were spent with his family and his grandchildren,” Halliburton said.

In addition to his wife, Mary Ann, Halliburton is survived by his sister, Rebecca, of San Diego; his son, Murphy, of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; daughters Susannah of North Bend, Washington, and Jyllian of Palo Alto; and several grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Aug. 23 at the Stanford Humanities Center. Details are pending.

Tanu Wakefield is the communications assistant at the Stanford Humanities Center.