AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
Current school and alma mater/s: Faculty member at Ohio University since 1965; BA, Southeast Missouri State University, 1960; MA, Columbia University, 1961; PhD, University of Missouri, 1965
Fields of interest: 20th-century United States (politics, foreign relations, intellectual)
When did you first develop an interest in history?
As a high-school student with a lively interest in politics. The interest was further developed in college and encouraged by my teachers.
What projects are you working on currently?
I am currently finishing a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt; probable publication in early 2015.
Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?
Interests have not changed greatly. Early on, I became interested in the relationship between ideas and politics. My dissertation, “Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism, 1945–1948,” became the basis for my first book, Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism. This was followed by a history of the United States since 1939 (The Imperial Years), a biographical study of political liberalism from FDR to Reagan (Liberalism and Its Challengers), a biography of Harry Truman (Man of the People), and a move backward into the 1930s that compares the experiences of the United States, Britain, and Germany (For the Survival of Democracy). I have followed that up with the forthcoming biography of FDR.
A subsidiary interest has been the history of American historical writing. For many years, I taught the required graduate historiography course at Ohio University. I have given some thought to a book on major historians, but am undecided about attempting it.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog, etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
There are so many! I have long enjoyed the essays of Carl L. Becker, both for their wit and their substance. The works of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and James Macgregor Burns greatly influenced me as a student and strike me as timeless. John A. Garraty’s AHR article on the Great Depression seems still essential reading on the subject. Among present-day writers, John L. Gaddis’s Strategies of Containment seems to me still an essential classic, and his biography of George F. Kennan is a must read. Kennan’s own memoirs (2 vols.) are wonderful.
What do you value most about the history profession?
I really believe that a knowledge of history frames the present for us.
Why did you join the AHA?
Every professional historian should belong to the organization that represents and fosters his endeavors. I am also a life member of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association.
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?
In December 1964, I interviewed for a job with the history chair at Ohio University. The meeting was very brief, and I left thinking I had no chance for a job there. About six weeks later, I was offered the job and have been there ever since.
Other than history, what are you passionate about?
I am a bit of a car buff, a passionate fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, and a pseudo-connoisseur of wines!