Charles Hill, a retired diplomat who taught at Yale University for nearly thirty years, was a visual thinker. In the classroom, he would distill complicated theories of politics and philosophy into simple charts on the blackboard. He taught students to parse the works of Thucydides, Aquinas, and Tocqueville—diagramming concepts of war, glory, law, and religion just as students once learned to diagram sentences. His students would leave these sessions in breathless awe, aware that they had witnessed the remarkable results of a capacious mind engaging with challenging texts.

That visual approach took other forms as well. Professor Hill enjoyed introducing students to Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1873 painting, L’Eminence Grise, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painting depicts an imagined scene from the court...


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