Staff Q&A: Tom Waldman

STAFF Q & A/Tom Waldman wears two hats—medieval scholar and fundraiser.

Tom Waldman’s first job at the University was as bibliographer of rare books and manuscripts, a logical choice for someone who had studied medieval history at Columbia and Oxford. It wasn’t until a few years later that he discovered his skill at fundraising.

Now, when he’s not playing the piano or caring for his Pembroke Welsh Corgi dogs, Waldman is successfully juggling his dual duties as fundraiser and history professor. “It is possible to have this balance,” said Waldman. “People have always said, ‘You can’t do it,’ and it can be done.” As a historian, Waldman was recently named a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, an honor that acknowledges his scholarly contribution to historical study through his many published works.

Q. How did you come to hold two positions at the University?
I did some fundraising in connection with the Lily Pennsylvania Program [a faculty development series], to keep it going. I did very well with that, to my surprise, and I enjoyed it. I approached the person who, at that time, was the head of corporate and foundation relations in central development. He said, ‘Well, how would you like to work here?’ I did that until the early ’90s, when I came over to the School of Arts and Sciences.

At the same time, I have kept up my research in medieval history and have taught pretty regularly a course per term.

Q. What is your present role with SAS?
I’m a fundraiser. I work with the corporate and the foundation constituency and with faculty from across the school trying to raise funding for several of their core needs, always keeping in mind the priorities of the dean.

I’ve been particularly interested in Penn’s community outreach and have worked on that for over a decade. I reach out to local schools through the Center for Community Partnerships. I’ve done a lot of fundraising for them.

Q. And in the History Department?
I don’t do a lot of teaching, and I only teach small seminars. I don’t have the time for large lectures. I think it has also kept me in touch with where the students are, what some of their interests are. I feel more connected to them.

Q. What is your particular focus in medieval history?
My focus has been on England and France, particularly the central Middle Ages. I’m particularly interested in the ecclesiastical and in the study of manuscripts, and in recent years I have mainly worked on the abbey of St. Denis, which is right outside Paris.

Q. What interests you about that particular period?
I’ve often asked myself that question! I think that as a young person I was attracted by a culture that seemed singularly non-nationalistic and I’m told that that’s common among many medievalists who entered the field in the decades following the Second World War. I’m very interested in a combination of spiritual and non-spiritual activities and at St. Denis I’m interested in what are the sources—political and religious—that went into building the abbey. It’s the first Gothic church and burial place of many of the French kings.

Q. How do you balance two vastly different jobs?
I think that because I have worked extensively as a researcher myself, it’s given me some understanding of the research process of many of the faculty.

My research enterprise, many times, is spent in archives, in libraries, and is a solitary one, to a certain extent. My work with the faculty in development and foundations is very people oriented and I like that combination.

I’m a bit of an intermediary. I enjoy them both.

Q. You were recently named a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. What kind of honor is this?
It’s a very important organization. I think it’s recognition that this person has done serious work in the historical profession.

It’s recognition that I have done good writing, good research, a lot of papers—and it’s extremely gratifying.

Q. Were you expecting it?
I had given a paper at Princeton in the fall and a professor there who was attending the conference—a renowned English woman—said to me she would like to nominate me, and I prepared some materials for her. I wasn’t so surprised, but I was extremely pleased.

Q. How has being at Penn contributed to your success in both fields?
There’s a wonderful library here. There is a very long, terrific tradition of medieval studies. I have benefited enormously, the interchanges with colleagues, living and dead. . . . Several faculty members over the years have really encouraged me. I have often felt very supported by my development colleagues, who encouraged me to wear these hats. This has been a very happy experience for me. … It’s been a very good place for me to work and do those things.