In Memoriam: Charles Hill (1936-2021 )

Senior Lecturer in Humanities andDistinguished Fellow of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy

When Charlie Hill, B.A. Brown University, M.A., J.D. the University of Pennsylvania, faculty member at Yale since 1992, arrived at Yale he had had a full life in the service of his country.  He had been a foreign service officer in Washington, Hong Kong, Viet Nam, and Israel and had been a senior adviser to George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, and to Boutros Boutros-Ghali. For his distinction during these years of service, he was awarded the Superior Honor Award from the State Department, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, and the Secretary of State’s Medal. 

At Yale his political philosophy, deriving from his study of the great texts of Western thought, as well as the depth of his practical experience, gave him subject matter that was germane for teaching. He was a controversial figure, given his background, political views and experience, but a galvanizing one. He taught almost continually in the Directed Studies program, where the Western Canon suited his philosophy and experience. Beginning in 2006, he offered “Oratory in Statecraft”: not since the legendary Rollin G. Osterweis, who taught “The History and Practice of American Oratory” for decades. had oratory been taught at Yale. Over the years it was calculated that Hill taught more than twenty different courses – at times, a new course every year.

Perhaps he was best known, however, for his contribution to the seminar “Studies in Grand Strategy,” an interdisciplinary two-semester study of leadership, statecraft, and diplomacy, co-taught with his friends John Gaddis and Paul Kennedy. The opportunity of the members of that class to discourse about key moments in history that illustrate strategic thinking; to read great texts and argue them with their peers and with distinguished faculty who had differing views; to take summer internships and then to apply their learning the following semester to current-day problems—all this has made entrance into this program a desire of many academically strong Yale students and resulted in a cohort of graduates of the program who now hold high position in the service of their countries.

Involved as Hill was with teaching, he collaborated with former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Egypt’s Road to Jerusalem, edited the three-volume papers of Boutros-Ghali, published Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, and wrote Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism. Most unusually, however, a full-scale biography, published by Houghton Mifflin, was written not by him but about him: The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost, by Molly Worthen ’03. It is said he never read it. If he had, he might have been impressed by seeing what he had accomplished in bringing a different perspective to Yale, stimulating many students by his strong, provocative view of history, and by his invigorating teaching.