Norman Fiering was born in New York City in 1935. His formal education leading to a bachelor's degree was at Dartmouth College, where he majored in philosophy and was a student of the great émigré historian and social philosopher, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. After a three-year interim of employment in the book publishing business in New York City, he entered graduate school in history at Columbia University and ultimately was awarded a Ph.D. degree in 1969. For two years, between 1962 and 1964, Mr. Fiering taught the Contemporary Civilization course at Columbia.
Mr. Fiering was an instructor in the History Department at Stanford University between 1964 and 1969, and went from Stanford to the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia (a research center sponsored jointly at the time by the College of William and Mary and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, now called the Omohundro Institute), where he was a post-doctoral fellow for three years. Following this fellowship, Mr. Fiering was appointed Editor of Publications at the Institute, a post he held for eleven years.
As editor, his primary responsibilities were the supervision of the Institute's book publication program, including acquisitions and substantive editing of scholarly manuscripts. Of the more than two dozen books published by the Institute during Mr. Fiering's tenure as editor, several won national prizes, most notably The Transformation of Virginia (1982), by Rhys Isaac, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History.
In 1977 and again in 1982-83, Mr. Fiering was Acting Director of the Institute. In 1983, Mr. Fiering was appointed Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, a position he held until the summer of 2006. He was also an adjunct professor in the History Department at Brown.
Mr. Fiering's scholarly research has centered on the early intellectual history of New England and on related factors in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and France. In addition to a dozen articles in scholarly journals and numerous book reviews, Mr. Fiering is the author of two books, Moral Philosophy at Seventeenth-Century Harvard: A Discipline in Transition and Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context, both published in 1981 by the University of North Carolina Press. (The latter work was re-issued in paperback in 2006 by Wipf & Stock.) The two books together were awarded the Merle Curti Prize for Intellectual History by the Organization of American Historians. More recently, Mr. Fiering contributed the entry for "Philosophy" in the three-volume Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies, ed. Jacob E. Cooke (New York, 1993).
Notable articles include "Irresistible Compassion: An Aspect of Eighteenth-Century Sympathy and Humanitarianism," Jour. of the History of Ideas (April 1976); "Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue," American Quarterly (July 1978); and "The First American Enlightenment: Tillotson, Leverett, and Philosophical Anglicanism," New England Quarterly (Sept. 1981), which was awarded the Walter Muir Whitehill Prize by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. For a collection of essays on Edwards, Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience (1988), edited by Nathan O. Hatch and Harry S. Stout, Mr. Fiering contributed "The Rationalist Foundations of Jonathan Edwards's Metaphysics".
Mr. Fiering also wrote "A Guide to Book Publication for Historians," a 40-page pamphlet commissioned and published by the American Historical Association in 1979.
As director of the John Carter Brown Library, Mr. Fiering continued his interest in publishing, initiating at the Library the publication of dozens of works, including exhibition catalogues, printed versions of lectures in pamphlet form, and conference proceedings. Among other projects Mr. Fiering co-edited three volumes of essays derived from conferences at the Library: with Edward Gray, The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000); with Paolo Bernardini, The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 1450 to 1800 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2001); and with David Geggus, The World of the Haitian Revolution (Indiana Univ. Press, 2009), all three volumes taking a hemispheric perspective. The last of the three was completed after Mr. Fiering's retirement from the JCBL.
Another product of a JCBL conference organized by Mr. Fiering was published by Cambridge University Press in May 2007, Portuguese Oceanic Expansion, 1400 to 1800, edited by Francisco Bethencourt and Diogo Ramada Curto. Mr. Fiering was heavily involved in the editing of the volume and wrote the Foreword to it. He contributed as well to the preparation of still another collection of essays developed at a Library conference, Simón Bolívar, Life and Legacy of the Liberator, edited by Lester Langley and David Bushnell, to which he wrote the Foreword. That volume was published by Rowman and Littlefield in the winter of 2007-08.
Mr. Fiering also provided editorial oversight for the preparation of Portuguese and Brazilian Books in the John Carter Brown Library, 1537 to 1839, with a Selection of Braziliana Printed in Countries Other Than Portugal and Brazil, an 800-page volume compiled and edited by Valeria Gauz and published by the Library in 2009.
Mr. Fiering's scholarly research was accomplished in large part during five years when he was supported by fellowships: the three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Early American History and Culture, already mentioned, and then a one-year National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 1975-76, and a one-year fellowship at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, in 1978-79, the year the Center opened.
In September 2002, at a ceremony at the Embassy of Brazil in Washington, D. C., Mr. Fiering was made a Commander in the Order of Rio Branco, for his work at the John Carter Brown Library, over a period of twenty years, promoting the study of Brazilian history and culture.
In September 2003, similarly, Mr. Fiering was notified by the Consul of Spain in Boston that he had been made a Commander in the Order of Isabel la Católica, in recognition of his "long dedication to promoting the culture and history of both Spain and the former Spanish colonies."
Mr. Fiering has been instrumental in the founding of several organizations. In 1994, with Prof. George Winius as a collaborator, he called a meeting at the Library of thirty scholars from this country and abroad that led to the establishment of the Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction (FEEGI).
In 1996, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the encouragement of the Mapfre America Foundation in Spain, Mr. Fiering organized a meeting in New York City that led to the establishment of the Program for Latin American Libraries and Archives ( PLALA), an agency (now based at Harvard) that makes grants to libraries and archives in Ibero-America to improve preservation and access.
In 1984, with Mrs. Isabel Pingree, Mr. Fiering founded the Rhode Island bibliophiles group, the John Russell Bartlett Society. In 1996, with Prof. John Hattendorf of the Naval War College, he assisted in the foundation of the American Friends of the Hakluyt Society, to enable U. S. citizens to make tax-deductible donations in support of the work of the Society.
The John Carter Brown Library, of which Mr. Fiering was the Director for twenty-three years, is an independently funded and administered institution for advanced research in history and the humanities, founded in 1846 and located on the campus of Brown University since 1901. The Library is devoted exclusively to collecting primary sources relating to the Americas during the period of direct European involvement in American affairs, roughly from 1492 to 1825. For more than one hundred years, the Library has served scholars from all over the United States and abroad, as a unique resource.
During Mr. Fiering's tenure as Director, the Library's endowment increased some ten-fold, from $5 million to $50 million. In 1991, the Library completed an $8 million capital campaign to expand its historic building, which resulted in the doubling of the size of the original edifice.
A substantial portion of the Library's endowment is dedicated to residential fellowships, an international program instituted by Mr. Fiering in 1983 that underwrites research in the JCB collection by over thirty scholars a year. In recognition of Mr. Fiering's role in the establishment of the fellowship program and his dedication to its growth, the Board of Governors of the Library in the fall of 2009 decided to name after him the fellows residence at 79 Charlesfield St., on the Brown University campus. "Fiering House" provides lodging and amenities for up to eleven visiting scholars at any one time.
In 2001, Mr. Fiering conceived and implemented the Archive of Early American Images project at the Library. The goal of the project was to digitize and make available online the thousands of illustrations secreted away in books printed before 1825 that showed any aspect of the Western Hemisphere––flora and fauna, geography, the built environment, cultures and peoples, and so forth. With the help of several foundation grants, by the time of his retirement in 2006 some 5,000 images were accessible in the Archive, and by 2011, over 7,000. Most of these images were hitherto almost entirely unknown; they had not been viewed by anyone from the time the book containing it was first printed to the present.
From 2005 to 2009, Mr. Fiering served as the executor (with Fredi Cuevas) of the estate of the Boston bookseller and collector, Maury A. Bromsen. Virtually all of Mr. Bromsen's estate of cash and tangible goods, including some 10,000 books and hundreds of manuscripts, was bequeathed to the John Carter Brown Library. Mr. Bromsen is recognized at the Library in numerous ways, including a Maury A. Bromsen-Simón Bolívar Room, a Bromsen curator of Latin American Books, and Bromsen endowments for fellowships and other purposes.
Mr. Fiering is presently Director and Librarian Emeritus of the John Carter Brown Library and is engaged in personal research. He is presently serving on an advisory committee at the Library of Congress for the Jay I. Kislak Collection, and for many years, from the time of its founding until the summer of 2015, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. He is also on the Board of the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund (based in Vermont), which he formerly served as president, and is the secretary of the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Society.
Additional information about Mr. Fiering may be found in two interviews with him: "'Tremendous Satisfaction from Helping People to Pursue Their Research,' An Interview with Norman Fiering," by Jaap Jacobs, Itinerario, XXVIII, no. 2 (2004), pp. 7-13, and "Interview with Norman Fiering," by Daniel J. Slive, RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, VI, no. 2 (Fall 2005), pp. 124-140.
For Mr. Fiering's ongoing personal commentary on the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, see www.understandingerh.net. Two articles of his on Rosenstock-Huessy were published recently by the journal European Legacy: "The Structure of Significant Lives," (European Legacy, vol. 22, issue 4 , pp. 406-426) downloadable online
(http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10848770.2017.1291885); and "Heritage vs. History: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy as a 'Physician of Memory'," (European Legacy, vol. 24, issue 5 , pp. 511-536) downloadable online
Mr. Fiering was married for more than sixty years to Renée (Dashiell), who died in June 2019. He has three children and two grandchildren.
Providence, Rhode Island 02906