The Eastman Professorship is one of the world's most respected visiting professorships, which brings a distinguished American scholar to Oxford each year. It was established in 1929 from an endowment established by Mr George Eastman, an American entrepreneur and founder of the Eastman Kodak Company in the United States. Following a conversation with Dr Abraham Flexner, former secretary of the Rockefeller General Education Board in the US, Mr Eastman wrote a letter in 1928 to the American Secretary to the Rhodes Trust, Professor Frank Aydelotte (Indiana & Brasenose 1905), offering the Association of American Rhodes Scholars (AARS) US$200,000 for an endowment of a professorship of American Studies at the University of Oxford. Eastman, inspired by the vision and beneficence of Cecil Rhodes, and the positive and transformative impact the Rhodes Scholarships had on American scholars, sought to promote greater understanding between the United States, Britain, and other countries. He therefore proposed that a senior American professor, appointed for a term of two to five years, should be chosen by a board made up of representatives of the University of Oxford and the AARS.
In 1929, the proposal was agreed by Francis Pember, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Aydelotte and Sir Francis Wylie, the first Warden of Rhodes House. The professorship, which was attached to a Fellowship of Balliol College, was named the ‘Eastman Visiting Professorship’ and the terms of the professorship were extended to include all subjects. To provide a home in Oxford for the Eastman Professor, construction of Eastman House began in 1959.
Eastman Professors have included such distinguished individuals as:
- Dr Baruch S. Blumburg (1925 – 2011), co-recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in identifying and creating a vaccine for the Hepatitis B virus, and later Master of Balliol College.
- Dr George Beadle, who was awarded the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine while in residence in Oxford as Eastman Professor for discovering the role of genes in regulating biochemical events within cells.
- Justice Felix Frankfurter, a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Dr George F. Kennan (1904 – 2005), an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist, historian, best known as the 'father' of the US policy of 'containment' of the Soviet Union.
- Dr Linus Pauling, the only person who has won two unshared Nobel Prizes: the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.
- Professor Natalie Zemon Davis, professor of History at the University of Toronto and the first female Eastman Professor in 1994–95.
- Six Rhodes Scholars have been appointed Eastman Professor:
- Professor Donald A. Stauffer (Colorado & Merton 1924) (1902–1952), an American literary critic, novelist and Professor of English and English Department Chairman at Princeton University.
- Professor Roger S. Loomis (Massachusetts & New College 1910) (1887–1966), an Emeritus Professor of English at Columbia University who was considered one of the foremost authorities on medieval and Arthurian literature.
- Professor Don K. Price (Tennessee & Merton 1932) (1910–1995), an American political scientist who was Weatherhead Professor Emeritus of Public Management at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and who served as a Rhodes Trustee.
- Professor Robert Darnton (Massachusetts & St John’s 1960), an American historian and leading expert on 18th-century France, Emeritus Professor of European History at Princeton University and recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 1982.
- Professor A. Walton Litz (Arkansas & Merton 1951), an American literary historian and critic who was a Professor of English Literature at Princeton University, 1956-93.
- Richard H. Ullman (Texas & New College 1955), the David K. E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs at Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He has served as a staff member of the National Security Council and of the Policy Planning Staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.