Political Scientist Milton C. Cummings Jr.

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Milton C. Cummings Jr., 74, a political scientist who co-wrote an unusually critical but highly popular U.S. history text and was an elder statesman in the field of government funding of the arts, died Aug. 10 at a son's home in New Vernon, N.J. He had prostate cancer.

Dr. Cummings was a former chairman of Johns Hopkins University's political science department, where he spent 40 years until retiring in 2004. A distinguished psephologist, one who conducts scientific studies of elections, he spent the 1960s and 1970s as an NBC News commentator on congressional elections.

A onetime Rhodes scholar, Dr. Cummings was a Harvard University protege of V.O. Key Jr., a former president of the American Political Science Association. After Key's death in 1963, Dr. Cummings completed Key's unfinished volume, "The Responsible Electorate," which examined decades-worth of voting patterns to show the electorate was far more rational in its Election Day judgments than political scientists had widely believed.

Dr. Cummings combined skills with David Wise, a Washington newspaperman and intelligence expert, to write a political science book of relevance during the rise of the counterculture, war protests and other political strife.

The authors wrote in "Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American Political System" (1971) that they intended to focus on the "reality as well as the rhetoric of American democracy."

The book was not a wholly laudatory civic text, although it dutifully discussed the branches of government and other familiar political themes. Its first chapter was about civil rights and minorities, in particular the struggles of black Americans.

In the book's 10 subsequent printings, the authors expanded the chapter to cover the women's movement, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans and gay people. The book has been used in more than 300 colleges and has sold more than 860,000 copies, Wise said yesterday.

"The motivation," Wise said, "was to write a book that was fun to read and not have students sell it back to the bookstores at the end of the year."

Milton Curtis Cummings Jr. was born April 23, 1933, in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Washington. He was a graduate of Western High School.

He completed his undergraduate work at Swarthmore College in 1954 and received a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, where he won the Wylie Prize for an essay on Anglo-American relations.

From Harvard, he received a doctorate in political science in 1960. His book "Congressmen and the Electorate" (1966), developed from his doctoral thesis, examined all elections in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1920 to 1964 and showed the emerging Republican Party stronghold on the South.

Deep into his career, he combined his political interests with an enthusiasm for the arts and became a leading scholar in comparative cultural policy. He studied arts funding from the creation of the federal income tax in 1913 (and its deductions for charitable giving) through the 1930s New Deal projects for unemployed writers and artists and the start of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965.

"He elevated the level of discussion about American cultural policy by arguing it deserved to be compared, and oft-times favorably, to many of the revered [arts-funding] systems in Western Europe," said J. Mark Schuster, a professor of urban cultural policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 1987 book "The Patron State: Government and the Arts in Europe, North America, and Japan" -- a collection of essays Dr. Cummings co-edited with Hopkins political scientist Richard S. Katz -- was credited with propelling a generation of younger scholars to study cultural policy in their discipline.

From his historian's perspective, Dr. Cummings felt that occasional flare-ups about controversial artists who received federal money, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, were not too worrisome.

"Governments in the United States at all levels -- federal, state and local -- now do far, far more to promote the arts in a wide variety of ways than was ever dreamed of in 1965," he told a Hopkins publication in 1994 about the NEA. "And that, I think, will continue."

Dr. Cummings was a mentor to scholars and students worldwide, and his lecture hall was consistently one of the most popular on the Hopkins campus. He was a Washington resident and a member of the Cosmos Club.

His marriage to Dr. Nancy Boucot Cummings ended in divorce.

Survivors included three children, Christopher R. Cummings of Kentfield, Calif., Jonathan B. Cummings of New Vernon and Susan S. Cummings of London; and nine grandchildren.

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