“You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County…’”

How often does a passage from a book with a title like Farmers & Fisherman: Two Centures of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, written by a relatively unknown historian working at a Canadian university, make it into a blockbuster Hollywood film?

Over at the website of Boston’s WBUR, Elissa Ely tells the story of the late Danny Vickers.

Here is a taste:

Danny made a career as a maritime historian, mostly in Canadian universities. In 1997, he got a letter from Miramax Films in California. They wanted to quote from “Farmers and Fishermen” in a script they were developing.

Maybe you’ll remember the scene: a bar in Cambridge and inside is Ben Affleck, with an overly heavy accent like an overgrown 5 o’clock shadow. Some pompous Harvard graduate student begins to humiliate him, throwing out scholarly references to early American history. It’s denigration by class, until Matt Damon steps in. “You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right?” our brilliant, muscular, “Good Will Hunting” janitor says. “Yeah, I read that, too. Were you going to plagiarize the whole thing for us?”

Danny took the unexpected slice of fame with humor and proceeded as usual with research and teaching. He gave the lie to that musty academic stereotype: the scholar whose entire life revolves around a single enzyme. His interests were specialized, yet he was taken with all people, whether they went about their lives 300 years ago or now. At one point, he lived with his family in a small Canadian fishing community.

Read the entire piece here.

I never met Vickers, but I have always felt connected to him through something historian John Murrin once told me.  While Murrin was driving me from Philadelphia to Princeton Amtrak station one evening after a McNeil Center for Early American Studies event (it was probably sometime in the late 1990s), he told me, as only John Murrin can do, that I presented a legitimate challenge to Vickers in the category of “tallest early American historian in North America.”