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Stanford Report, April 12, 2000

Kennedy wins history Pulitzer Prize for 'Freedom From Fear'

Most of the undergraduates who filed into the lecture hall Tuesday morning for "The United States in the 20th Century" knew their professor had won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for history the day before.

They congratulated David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, as he stood by the doorway and then applauded when he strode down the side aisle in Bishop Auditorium and stepped up to the podium.

"To tell you the truth, I've had a lot of kudos thrown in my direction in the last 24 hours and it could go to your head, this sort of thing," Kennedy said to laughter. "But little of it means as much as the tribute you just gave me.


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"Somebody told me last night, 'The hell with it -- take the day off,' " he added. "But I took most of the night off and I need to get back to business now."

Having celebrated with his family at his campus home on Monday night, where he broke his Lenten resolve to march through a well-chilled bottle of champagne, a 1998 pinot noir and a '96 cabernet sauvignon, Kennedy was on his toes for his 9 a.m. lecture on World War I.

Noting that "it's not the subject of my book," he nevertheless plunged into an examination of the background for America's first intervention in a foreign conflict, a war that ultimately would cost 10 million lives.

The book for which Kennedy won the Pulitzer on Monday, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, is a comprehensive history of the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II. It is the fourth volume in the Oxford University Press History of the United States series.

Kennedy spent 11 years on the 858-page book, reading hundreds of published accounts but doing "virtually no archival research," he told an interviewer last year. He also visited major battle sites of World War II, including Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Anzio and Salerno in Italy and Normandy.

"I was able to soak up not only the physical landscape, but a lot of the psychological landscape, the landscape of memory as well," he has said. "I think it's indispensable for a writer about these kinds of military topics to know the terrain."

Kennedy served on the 1994 Pulitzer history jury whose nominations were rejected by the Pulitzer Board, and he also was a member of the 1984 Pulitzer jury that decided there were no titles worthy of nomination. In 1981, his book Over Here: The First World War and American Society was nominated for the Pulitzer for history.

"Having come close before, it feels better to make it all the way this time," Kennedy said in a telephone interview the afternoon he was awarded the Pulitzer. "I think it was Nixon who said, 'I've won and I've lost, and I can tell you winning feels better.'"

Carolyn Lougee, chair of the History Department, was in The Hague, monitoring the Pulitzer website on her laptop, when she got the news.

"This is of course a magnificent honor for David and all the more richly deserved because he is an extraordinary teacher and academic leader as well as a superlative scholar," Lougee said in an e-mail note.

"The Pulitzer is among the very most prestigious and competitive prizes a humanist can be awarded -- as close as we get to having a Nobel," she added. "I've never known the department when it wasn't at least a 2-Pulitzer department. Now, being a 3-Pulitzer department [Carl Degler won the prize in 1972, and Jack Rakove won in 1997] is just that much better. We all take pride in this, not only for our three individual colleagues but because the work for which they have been honored is the tip of the iceberg in a department filled with eminent scholars who are leading the way in their particular fields."

Rakove, the Coe Professor of History and American Studies, served on the three-member jury that selected this year's award, and he was one of the first people to congratulate Kennedy.

"I thought all along that David had a great shot at winning it because his book, very much like his teaching, is so artfully tuned," Rakove said. "He's a grand master of the bon mot and the well-turned phrase, and his writing carries readers along effortlessly."

Kennedy said he and Rakove now share even more in common.

"Jack and I joked with each other that we've now established a firm tradition in the History Department -- that every person who has been seated in the Coe [endowed] chair has won a Pulitzer," Kennedy said. "First there was David Potter, then Donald Fehrenbacher, then I held the chair briefly, and now it's Jack. So the chair is a charm."

Kennedy, a native of Seattle, earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford in 1963. He received his doctorate in American studies from Yale and joined the Stanford faculty in 1967.

Kennedy teaches courses in 20th-century U.S. history, American political and social thought, American foreign policy, American literature and the comparative development of democracy in Europe and America. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a former Guggenheim Foundation Fellow.

At Stanford, Kennedy has served as associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and been director of Stanford's Program in International Relations. He won a Dean's Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1988, and that same year received a Richard W. Lyman Award for Faculty Service from the Alumni Association. He has been chosen as a Class Day speaker three times.

Kennedy's 1970 book, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, explored the medical, legal, political and religious dimensions of birth control and helped to pioneer the emerging field of women's history. Over Here: The First World War and American Society used the history of American involvement in World War I to analyze the American political system, economy and culture in the early 20th century.

With Thomas A. Bailey, Kennedy was co-author of the seventh edition of The American Pageant, a textbook that is widely used in college courses and Advanced Placement courses in high schools.

"American Pageant has been in print for almost 50 years, and I can only hope the same for Freedom From Fear," Kennedy said. SR