Gordon A. Craig, renowned historian of Germany, dead at 91

After retiring, longtime professor became a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, donated diaries to university


The J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Craig joined the Stanford faculty in 1961.

Professor Emeritus Gordon A. Craig, an internationally renowned historian of Germany, died Oct. 30 of heart failure at The Sequoias nursing facility in Portola Valley. He was 91.

The J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, Craig joined the Stanford faculty in 1961. In 1979, he became an emeritus professor. He began his academic career at Yale in 1939 but moved in 1941 to Princeton, where he taught until Stanford recruited him following a sabbatical at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences during the 1956-57 academic year.

"He was among a handful of people in the late fifties and early sixties who remade the History Department and helped elevate Stanford from a good local university to a great national university," said James Sheehan, the Dickason Professor in the Humanities.

Craig's arrival on campus coincided with the hiring of several prominent faculty, including historians David Potter and Gordon Wright. "Overnight, this catapulted the Stanford History Department into the first-rate ranks," President Emeritus Richard Lyman said.

Peter Stansky, the Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus, noted that the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences was a fertile academic recruiting ground for Stanford in the early 1960s. "[Craig's] colleagues at Princeton were aghast when he left," Stansky said. "That was one reason he enjoyed coming here—to tease them for being stuffy."

Craig, whom Stansky described as "the most distinguished historian of modern Germany in this country and possibly one of the greatest in the world," was highly regarded for his numerous books and articles. These included The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945 (1955); Europe Since 1815 (1961; still widely used); a massive contribution to the Oxford History of Modern Europe called Germany, 1866-1945 (1978); and The Germans (1982). Politics and Culture in Modern Germany, a collection of Craig's essays that first appeared in the New York Review of Books, was published in 1999.

Craig served as chair of the History Department from 1972 to 1975 and from 1978 to 1979, and was widely credited for strengthening the university's undergraduate and graduate teaching programs. In 1973, Craig received the Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education, and he chaired the Faculty Senate for a term in 1974. He was a member of the prestigious Pour le Mérite order of Germany and served as president of the American Historical Association.

After his retirement, Craig became a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. "His fame and full impact as a public intellectual came late," Sheehan said. "He had a great academic career but transcended that after his retirement." Craig became a public figure in Germany after The Germans, a book that discussed the German experience, was published there. "He was a celebrity; people would recognize him on the street," Sheehan said.

Craig was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1913, and later emigrated with his family from Toronto, Canada, to Jersey City in New Jersey in 1925. Deborah Preston, one of Craig's daughters, said her father first wanted to study law at Princeton as an undergraduate but quickly switched to history after taking a course taught by Walter "Buzzer" Hall, one of the university's most popular professors. Craig earned four degrees from Princeton, including his doctorate and an honorary degree.

In the late 1930s, Craig attended Balliol College at Oxford University for two years on a Rhodes scholarship. Shortly before World War II broke out he visited Germany. "He was very influenced by seeing the early stages of Nazism," Sheehan said. "As a young American, this made an enormous impression on him."

During the war, Craig served as a political analyst for the Office of Strategic Services and also served as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. Later, he worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Historical Division of the U.S. Marine Corps.

At Princeton and Stanford, Craig established a reputation as a popular professor among students. "He held forth like the mouth of God," said Paul Robinson, the Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities. "All his lectures were well crafted. He really was a master teacher. He loved it and was good at it." University Archivist Margaret Kimball took classes from Craig when she was an undergraduate in the late 1970s. "For me, as a young person, I really revered him," she said. "He was always interesting and engaging. He never talked down to you. Even in smaller groups he wasn't intimidating. It was fun."

When Kimball returned to Stanford as an employee, she continued to visit Craig, who lived on campus until about 18 months ago. Over several years, he donated his books and papers, including speeches, articles, research notes and diaries, to the university archives. The diaries, which span from 1935 to 1992, contain Craig's impressions of Stanford events and politics during his years on campus. "They're a great resource for Stanford history," Kimball said. According to Stansky, the Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, a scholarly publishing nonprofit, plans to print two volumes of Craig's edited diaries, as well as another volume of his New York Review essays.

Craig is survived by his wife, Phyllis Craig of Portola Valley, who helped establish child care on campus in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also is survived by his sister, Jean Clarke of Ontario, Canada; daughters Deborah Preston of Los Altos Hills, Susan Craig of Pasadena and Martha Craig of Peoria, Ill.; a son, Charles Craig of South Pasadena; and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial celebration of Craig's life will be held on campus in early 2006. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Craig's memory be made to a charity of one's choice.