February 28, 2007
By Vernon Horn
Arthur M. Schlesinger jr., one of the most distinguished historians of the 20th and 21st centuries and a life member of the AHA, died of a heart attack last night in Manhattan. He was 89. During his academic career, Schlesinger taught at Harvard University and the City University of New York. He also worked extensively outside of the academy. During World War II he worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner to the CIA, and later on, he served as an advisor and speechwriter to President Kennedy.
Beginning with the publication of The Age of Jackson in 1945, his work was often cited as a defense of New Deal politics, and he considered himself an unreconstructed liberal. He wrote extensively and often admiringly on Franklin Roosevelt and the Kennedy brothers. In the 1970s his The Imperial Presidency strongly criticized the presidency of Richard Nixon. In recent years he also wrote much against the war in Iraq, including the 2004 publication of War and the American Presidency and many articles in diverse publications from the New York Times and The New York Review of Books to Arianna Huffington’s Huffingtonpost.com blog.
He also served the profession and the Association, though not by elected office. In 1961 Schlesinger was instrumental in having President Kennedy join the Association and eventually become a life member (see related article in Perspectives). Thereafter the Association was able to generate a bit of positive publicity based on the affiliation.
In 1954 Schlesinger benefited from the advocacy assistance of the AHA when the American ambassador in London sought to derail Schlesinger’s nomination to the prestigious Harmsworth Visiting Professorship at Oxford.
Schlesinger was the recipient of many awards and honors including the two Pulitzer Prizes (in history for The Age of Jackson and in biography for A Thousand Days), two National Book Awards, and the 1998 NEH National Humanities Medal. In 2004 the AHA awarded him its Award for Scholarly Distinction.
The New York Times has published a lengthy obituary as well as extensive list of articles and reviews of his work that it has published over the course of his career. The Washington Post has published an interesting article as well.