History Department
History Department

History alumnus John Lewis Gaddis wins Pulitzer, visits History graduate students

Wed, May 9, 2012
History alumnus John Lewis Gaddis wins Pulitzer, visits History graduate students

When graduate students in the History Department met with John Lewis Gaddis on March 6, they thought they were going to participate in a discussion with an eminent Cold War historian. They did not realize they were meeting with a soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize-winner.

John Lewis Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, received his Ph.D. from the History Department at the University of Texas in 1968. 

A renowned historian of the Cold War grand strategy, Gaddis has published numerous books, including:

  • The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (1972)
  • Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security (1982)
  • The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (1987)
  • We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997)
  • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (2002)
  • Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (2004)
  • The Cold War: A New History (2006)

His most recent work, George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011) is an impressive treatment of the diplomat who articulated and promoted the Cold War strategy of containment in his famous “Long Telegram” and “X Article.”  

Professor Gaddis agreed to be George Kennan’s biographer in 1981, provided that he would have unfettered access to the diplomat’s papers. In return, Gaddis promised that the work would not be published while Kennan lived.  Kennan, however, did not pass away until 2005, at the ripe old age of an hundred and one. 

Gaddis noted that Kennan’s long life “caused him more grief than it did me…. For years, I was getting apologies from him.”  The result of this thirty-year intellectual odyssey came out in November of 2011, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Biography last month.

After delivering a talk before a packed audience at Bass Concert Hall, Professor Gaddis met privately with a select group of history graduate students, professors, and several visiting committee members, in Garrison Hall, to discuss his new book and the historical professional in general.

Jonathan Hunt, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate, recalled, “Dr. Gaddis answered a range of questions from the audience of professors and graduate students about the fascinating life and times of George Frost Kennan, the challenges of writing the biography of a living subject, and the dilemmas posed by writing history that speaks to how the U.S. interacts with the world today.” 

It was “phenomenal,” Hunt declared, to have the opportunity to “pepper a soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize winner with questions.” 

Renata Keller, a recent graduate of the History program who will join Boston University as an Assistant Professor this fall, noted that when a student asked for guidance on how to choose a dissertation topic, Gaddis responded, “Make it important.”  Gaddis also praised the quality of international history now being taught and produced at the University of Texas at Austin. 

“It is a testament to Dr. Gaddis’ enthusiasm for the field and for teaching more broadly,” Hunt concluded, “that he seemed as reluctant as we were to bring the meeting to a close.”

Read More:

“America’s Cold War Sage and His Discontents,” The New York Times, November 22, 2011.

Announcement of "2012 Pulitzer Prizes for Letters, Drama and Music," The New York Times, April 16, 2012.

George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Publisher page).

Professor John Lewis Gaddis, Yale University, faculty home page.

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