Thomas M. Davis (1930-2014)

Testimonials and Messages


By Jeffrey Hammond
Thomas M. Davis, Professor Emeritus of English at Kent State University, was a pioneer in the development of early American studies and a leading scholar of Puritanism, particularly the poetry of Edward Taylor.

Turning to early American studies after initially publishing on Dickinson and Salinger, Tom became a specialist in Puritan poetics and aesthetics. He served on the editorial board of Early American Literature and did groundbreaking work on the impact of biblical interpretation, especially typology, on Puritan art and thought. He and his wife, Virginia L. Davis, also undertook the extensive task of gathering and editing Taylor’s unpublished manuscripts. This work was demanding, to say the least: in many cases they recovered texts from sheets that Taylor had used as book-binding material. This work resulted in seven meticulously edited volumes: Edward Taylor’s Church Records and Related Sermons (1981), Edward Taylor vs. Solomon Stoddard: The Nature of the Lord’s Supper (1981), Edward Taylor’s Minor Poetry (1981), and the four-volume Edward Taylor’s Harmony of the Gospels (1983). Tom’s career-long interest in the Westfield poet/minister culminated in his insightful book, A Reading of Edward Taylor (1992). A two-time recipient of Kent State’s Distinguished Teaching Award and a recipient of the President’s Medal, Tom was also a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Thessaloniki. In the early 1980s he initiated an exchange program with Thessaloniki that he and Gina directed until his retirement in 1995

Those of us who were privileged to be Tom’s graduate students in the 1970s belonged to what he wryly called the “Tayloring Shop.” He was a dynamic and encouraging teacher, a generous colleague, and a great friend. He was also a terrific storyteller. At the many wonderful parties that he and Gina hosted, he kept us laughing with tales about his early days as a minister and as a submariner during the Korean War. Like all great teachers, Tom was also an avid learner. His interests were many and wide-ranging: the literature and history of the American West, Native-American history and cultures, American folk music, and his beloved Greece, both ancient and modern. Even in his later years he never lost his energy and curiosity – and we never stopped learning from him.

Jeffrey Hammond
St. Mary’s College of Maryland

By Robert Arner

I knew Tom and Gina Davis in the early 1970s when they used to camp around New England, conducting research on Edward Taylor at Redwood and elsewhere. I was a fellow at JCB and, later, at AAS. I had published a few pieces in EAL, and Everett Emerson, who was then at UMass-Amherst, invited me and my wife for dinner in the Berkshires. Later, through Everett, I met Tom, Mason Lowance, Sacvan Bercovitch, eventually Leo Lemay, and others. That first summer we were a congenial group, sharing dinners, drinks, and talk. This was in the anti-Vietnam protest days, and I remember Tom’s telling me that, if I went on any more protest marches (I did and he did), I should be sure to keep a dime between my toes so I could call an attorney (a dime—that will show you how long ago that was). Tom and I also shared an interest in model trains, although he was light years ahead of me in that category. We met many times subsequently at the MLA and other conferences. I loved him and his wife. I loved their wry sense of humor about which Jeff has remarked. They epitomized for me what I wanted to be when I grew up, both as people and as scholars. I was saddened to hear of his death, as also Sacvan’s, who did me many academic favors: there were giants on the earth in those days.

Bob Arner
University of Cincinnati

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