Burdick, Charles B. (1927-1998)

Burdick, Charles B. (1927-1998)

Date Updated




Academic Rank


Year Retired from SJSU


Facebook or Website URL

Charles B.. Burdick War Poster Collection http://digitalcollections.sjlibrary.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/sjsubur

Charles B. Burdick Military History Collection


Burdick Military History Project


Register of the Charles Burton Burdick papers


Educational Background

Stanford University, History, 1954 PhD

Stanford University, History, 1950 MA

San Jose State University, History, 1949 BA

Teaching Experience

History, San Jose State University, 1957-1988

Administrative and Professional Experience

Dean of Social Sciences, 1983-1988

Chair, History Department, 1976-1982

Selected Publications

Authored10 books, mostly on German history, and had served as editor of 15 more. Published dozens of articles. Work on the history of the German High Command in World War II remains an important part of the historiography of WWII.

Personal Commentary

Charles B. Burdick's distinction, the most accomplished faculty member in the history of San Jose State, rested upon the official decisions of his academic colleagues, successive presidents of the university, and chancellors of the California State University system. The students had already proclaimed Dr. Burdick "King of the Classroom" when President Robert D. Clark awarded him Outstanding Professor distinction in 1966-67. President Gail Fullerton repeated this action in 1978-79, making him the only professor to be twice chosen for the institution's top teaching award. On both occasions, the CSU trustees doubly honored Burdick with their own unprecedented, two-time selection of him as the most outstanding professor within the university system.

Dr. Charles Burdick also was named President's Scholar in 1974-75 by President John H. Bunzel. That distinction, which Bunzel created to recognize published scholarship or artistic and scientific accomplishment, rested upon Burdick's library of published research and his international acclaim in the field of German military history.

Burdick grew up in San Jose, the oldest of six Depression Era children of Donald L. and Inez E. Burdick. After the conclusion of his under-age, 1944 enlistment in WWII (with parental permission), he enrolled at San Jose State College in 1946, completed bis degree in three years, and began graduate studies at Stanford. While still in their undergraduate years, Burdick and Kay Lutz began a marriage that would endure for 50 years. Starting with his Stanford graduate years, he and Kay (and their four daughters as years advanced) enjoyed extended residences in Germany. At first Burdick introduced himself to the surviving leadership of the German military, interviewed them, and then collected original and manuscript materials dealing with post-1918 German history. His contacts and his gathering of source materials served as the basis of his and his students' subsequent contributions to twentieth century German history. Vast numbers of colleagues and students considered themselves the Burdicks' personal friends. Burdick always had time for them, for their problems and for their triumphs.

When his former San Jose State teacher Professor DudleyT.Moorhead recruited him back from Stanford in1957, history did not yet exist as a department. This would take place under the leadership of H.Brett Melendy and Gerald E. Wheeler. Burdick's initial role was to design the comprehensive history curriculum, which he soon expanded into a graduate program. That reorganization, plus the huge and growing flood of new students, allowed Burdick to specialize in teaching European and German history. Each semester thereafter he was able to offer a research seminar or a master's level colloquium. The MA theses, more than120 of which Burdick directed, became the prime requirement for the graduate degree.

In charge of instructional scheduling, Burdick assigned himself the European history lecture, that grew to an overflow attendance, at 7:30 a.m.every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For Burdick's students, failure simply was not an option. His students succeeded because he let them know that they would. They could not disappoint a professor who invested his faith and his valuable time in them.

Among his methods for bringing out their best was the individualized final examination.This exam had one section of general questions pertaining to the broad scope of the course, and a second section pertaining to each student's previously completed research project. This method allowed the diligent as well as the brilliant to perform even better.

Burdick zoomed through the promotion and tenure processes easily, enjoyed early Fulbright appointments in Germany, and became a most favored grantee of Germany's prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The Humboldt sought Burdick out constantly with grants of extensive professional support, individual and family accommodations, research contacts and materials, providing the supportive and appreciative environment in which his scholarship thrived. In his retirement, the Humboldt struck a medal in Professor Burdick's honor and presented it in a lavish ceremony in Germany. The Federal Republic conferred upon him the Commander Cross of the Order of Merit in1992.

Burdick himself had authored 10 books, mostly on German history, and had served as editor of 15 more. His former students (mostly well placed in education or government service) presented him with a Festschrift, a book of their original, scholarly essays, in his honor and at a campus banquet on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

When he was 72 years old, Kay's man and everyone's friend developed an inoperable tumor that first denied him sight, then life. During his decline, he and Kay received a steady stream of admiring friends and former students. As was his way, Charles never allowed a guest to feel anything less than happiness in his presence. When his friend, former chair and dean Gerald Wheeler visited Charles at his retirement residence in Ferndale, California, Charles joined the dinner party that Wheeler gathered at the town's quaint Victorian Village Inn. Though unable to see much beyond his dinner plate or to sense the once-familiar bouquet and taste of the German wines, Burdick made that evening one more among so many that had been charged with charm, wit, and enduring friendship. His friends received copies of his concluding act of scholarship, a well-researched examination of ordinary people caught in uncontrollable historical change. Burdick's final article and gift, "The Expulsion of Germans from Japan, 1947-1948," was a sensitive examination of evil's impact upon innocence. It was a twentieth century farewell from the best product of San Jose State's academic life.

Source: Walsh, James P. (2003). San José State University: An Interpretive History, 1950-2000.San Jose: San Jose State University, p. 182-184.

Source for Burdick Photo: Ken P. Ruinard, SJSU Office of Community Relations


Burdick, Charles B. (1927-1998)