Richard Kirkendall

  • Professor Emeritus
Fields: Modern US History
Phone: 206-543-7972
Office: SMI 10 |
Curriculum Vitae:

          Although I was born and raised in the state of Washington, I did not settle in Seattle until I was sixty years old.  An invitation to become the Bullitt Professor drew me here, as did the quality of the department and the university, the beauty of the campus, and the attractiveness of the city and its surroundings.


I prepared for the UW in a variety of places. Born in Spokane in 1928, I was educated in the public schools there and in Gonzaga University.  Before continuing my formal education, I served in the United States Navy, mostly on a destroyer that operated at times off the coast of North Korea.  Helped by the GI Bill, I pursued graduate study at the University of Wisconsin, studying mainly with Merle Curti, one of the profession’s leaders at the time, and receiving a Ph.D. in 1958.  By then, I had taught for three years, at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.  Moving to the University of Missouri, Columbia, I remained there for fifteen years, including three as chair of the history department, and then divided the next decade and a half between eight years at Indiana University, Bloomington, and seven at Iowa State University before moving to Seattle in 1988.


            Two topics have dominated my scholarship: American agricultural history and the presidency of Harry S. Truman.  My publications in the first field include two books, Social Scientists and Farm Politics in the Age of Roosevelt (1966, 1982) and Uncle Henry: A Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace (1993), and many articles and reviews, some of them focused on the third Henry.  As the Henry A. Wallace Professor at Iowa State, I played large roles in the establishment of a doctoral program devoted to agricultural history and rural life and a book series focused on that subject that turned out sixteen books during my tenure as series editor. 


            I contributed to the development of Truman historiography in several ways. Most obviously, I published five books, beginning with The Truman Period as a Research Field (1967) and ending with Civil Liberties and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman (2013).   I also published many Truman articles, essays, and reviews, gave HST space in other books, most notably A History of Missouri 1919-1953 (1986, 2004), and worked with    doctoral students who made important contributions to the literature of this field.  In addition, I was for many years an active member of the Board of Directors of the Truman Library Institute and the chair of its research committee.


            Inspired to become a historian by a great teacher, William Lyle Davis, S.J., I enjoyed my life as a teacher for forty three years.  At Iowa State, I emphasized courses in agricultural history, most notably one on “Farming and Rural Life in American Thought and Imagination.”  Elsewhere, I focused on political history and the U.S. in the world. My courses ranged from introductory ones such as “The U.S. since 1940” to reading and research classes for graduate students.  In four of the universities, I directed more than thirty doctoral dissertations.


            Also active in the organized historical profession, I was president of the Agricultural History Society (1973-1974), executive secretary of the Organization of American Historians (1973-1981), vice president for the Professional Division of the American Historical Association (1983-1986), and, most recently (2003-2007), chair of the OAH Centennial Committee.  In 2011, Oxford University Press published my book on The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History. 


            In addition to my appointments to five faculties, I look back gratefully on awards from three universities and one historical organization.  In 1972, Missouri’s Alumni Association gave me a Faculty-Alumni Award; in 1978, Gonzaga honored me with an Alumni Merit Award, and eleven years later, that university presented me with an honorary doctorate.  Less than a decade after that and late in the year of my retirement from the classroom (1998), the Washington history department staged a conference in my honor that featured several of my doctoral graduates, and in 2001, the OAH gave me its Distinguished Service Award.  


Social Scientists and Farm Politics in the Age of Roosevelt. Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1966.

Uncle Henry : a Documentary Profile of the First Henry Wallace. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993.

The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History. Oxford University Press, 2011.