American Studies
American Studies

William H. Goetzmann, 1964 Founder of American Studies at UT, Dies

Tue, September 7, 2010

Historian William H. Goetzmann, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 and emeritus professor of American Studies and History at the University of Texas, died on September 7, 2010. His book Exploration and Empire, a study of the 19th century scientific exploration of the American West, won both the Pulitzer and Parkman prizes in history in 1967. His book on the art of the American West, The West of the Imagination, co-authored with son William N. Goetzmann, was the subject of a PBS television series by the same name in 1985. His most recent work, Beyond the Revolution (2009), traced the development of post-Revolutionary American thought. His writings and scholarly interests ranged widely over his career, from ribald historical memoirs (My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue: Sam Chamberlain, 1993) to definitive contributions in American intellectual history (The American Hegelians, 1973). A consistent theme of his work was the variety and vitality of the American experience.

Bill Goetzmann taught History and American Studies for fifty years, first at Yale University and then at the University of Texas. As the chairman of the University of Texas History department in 1968-9 and as director of the American Studies Program from 1964 to 1980, he played a key role in the racial integration of the university's faculty and in the development of multicultural studies in the humanities. In 1968, he recruited the College of Arts and Sciences' first African-American faculty members, Dr. Henry Bullock and Dr. George Washington, and instituted the university's first women's studies course, "The Intellectual Woman in America," taught by Prof. Susan Conrad. In 1969, he instituted a course in Hispanic-American studies taught by Prof. Raymund Paredes, now Commissioner of Higher Education in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. He continued his vocal advocacy for minority recruiting until shortly before his retirement from the university. As an educator, Bill Goetzmann chaired more than 60 doctoral committees and taught 83 different undergraduate and graduate courses over the course of his career. He held the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Professorship in History and American Studies at the University of Texas until his retirement 2005.

The son of Viola and Harry Goetzmann, Bill Goetzmann was born in Washington, D.C., in 1930 and passed away in his home in Austin, Texas. An only child, he is survived by his wife Mewes Goetzmann, three children: William N. Goetzmann, professor of finance at Yale School of Management; Anne Goetzmann Kelley, co-executive director and founder of the Austin School of Film; and Stephen R. Goetzmann, an attorney in Dallas; and five grandchildren, Brooks Kelley, Jr., of Austin, Texas, Zoe Goetzmann of New Haven, and Griffin Goetzmann, Sophie Goetzmann, and Wells Goetzmann of Dallas.
From Austin American Statesman

Bill Goetzmann remembered by his colleague Bill Stott

The death of my UT mentor, Bill Goetzmann, is something I won't get over.

I was Bill's assistant director in American Studies from 1971 till 1980, hired because it was thought that having been a propagandizing diplomat in Third World nations, I would be able to help American Studies – which was to say (at that time) help Bill – make peace with the English department. He and I meshed as a team because, though he was hundreds of times better read, more imaginative, and more energetic than I, and loyal and funny to boot, he also had complexities of character that reminded me of my father. I had spent 30 years learning how to get along with my father and had a head start working with Bill.

In the fall of 1971, among the dozens of ideas Bill put forward was one I thought I could carry out: making a pamphlet about our graduate program. I wrote it and had UT designer Tom Johnson prepare a mock-up. Bill glanced at it and said, "It's so dull!" And he transformed the pamphlet into the first of our once-notorious grad posters, with a huge photo of well-upholstered matrons dressed in black in a Model T with a pennant calling for "Votes for Women." Down at the bottom of the poster Bill had us add an armadillo, a salute to the Armadillo World Headquarters, then at apogee.


Click here to view full poster.

From Bill I learned the question every inquirer needs to answer (though most don't), "So what?" Or, put more expansively: "What do we know when we know that?" Or, again briefly: "Why does that matter?" From him I learned most of what I know about academic politics and the wisdom of knowing when to stop playing them and start, as Bill would say, "banging on your cereal bowl."

Bill's fear always was that the state was going to turn UT into a monumental junior college. "They don't know what education is," he'd often say about people running the university (The University, as it styles itself). He stood on the bridge to keep the philistines at bay and taught an uncountable number of students who now carry on his crusade.

The crusade is conservative, as was Bill – in most matters outspokenly. In his last years he despaired about America. And yet, just to show his complexity, his 2009 book, Beyond the Revolution, has as its central generative intellectual the despised revolutionary “atheist” Tom Paine, whom Bill salutes for embodying just what is so needed now: “the spirit of revival, constant regeneration, and future-oriented habits of pragmatic thinking.” America has gotten through rough times before, and it is in our character, the scholar William H. Goetzmann found, to do it always again.

The photo of Bill accompanying the Austin American-Statesman obituary notice above shows him at his most affable. Likely as not, he was then cooking up one of his sudden, terrifying questions. "What painter would agree with Faulkner's definition of culture?" say. We who were fortunate enough to know him well will never be free of his way of thinking.

William M. Stott, Professor Emeritus, American Studies and English


William H. Goetzmann, Pulitzer-Winning Historian, Dies at 80
The New York Times, September 11, 2010
By William Grimes
William H. Goetzmann, who in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book overturned the idea of Western exploration in the 19th century as a series of random thrusts into the hinterland, finding instead that it was a far more systematic effort, died on Tuesday at his home in Austin, Tex. He was 80.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his wife, Mewes, said.

Mr. Goetzmann’s book “Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West” (Knopf, 1966) synthesized a vast repository of diaries, reports, monographs and scholarly studies in presenting a comprehensive picture of what he called the American government’s “programmed” information gathering.

For example, he wrote, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were instructed to collect data not only on transportation routes and trapping grounds in their epic expedition but also on Indian tribes and available natural resources that might affect future settlement.

The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1967 as well as the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians.

The historian David Lavender, reviewing the book for The New York Times, wrote that the author had “achieved a feat of historical discovery as notable in its own way as were some of the physical excursions into the West that he describes so well.”

The author of many books on American history, Mr. Goetzmann also created a documentary series on Western art, “The West of the Imagination,” which was broadcast by PBS in 1986. With his son William N. Goetzmann he published a book with the same title that year.

At the University of Texas, where he began teaching in 1964 and directed the American studies program until 1980, Mr. Goetzmann made it his mission to open up the study of American history to blacks, women and Hispanics.

In the late 1960s, as chairman of the history department, he invited outside experts to speak on black history and appointed the university’s first black faculty members in the liberal arts. He also established the university’s first courses in women’s studies and Hispanic-American studies.

William Henry Goetzmann was born on July 20, 1930, in Washington, and grew up in St. Paul and Houston. At Yale, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1957 and taught from 1955 to 1964, his interest in the history of the West was sparked by the historian Howard R. Lamar. His dissertation was published in 1959 under the title “Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863.”

Although the West remained his focus, Mr. Goetzmann wrote on a variety of subjects in American history. His books included “When the Eagle Screamed: The Romantic Horizon in American Diplomacy, 1800-1860” (1966) and “Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought From Paine to Pragmatism” (2009).

“New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery” (1987) fanned out from “Exploration and Empire” to examine scientific exploration around the globe in the 19th century.

He was the editor of “The American Hegelians: An Intellectual Episode in the History of Western America” (1973) and two first-person accounts of the Mexican War, George Ballentine’s “Autobiography of an English Soldier in the United States Army” (1986) and Gen. Samuel Chamberlain’s “My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue” (1996).

Besides his wife and his son William, of New Haven, he is survived by another son, Stephen R. Goetzmann of Dallas; a daughter, Anne Goetzmann Kelley of Austin; and five grandchildren.

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