Professor Jack Pole: historian of the US, dies at 87





Professor Jack Pole was the foremost British historian of the United States in his generation, and his books and articles won him recognition and acclaim in the highest ranks of US historians. He was an expert on the American Revolution but he wrote on all periods and linked the history of the US to that of Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Jack Richon Pole was born in London in 1922. His father, Joe Pole, had arrived in Britain from Ukraine as a boy. The Jewish family were en route to New York but got no farther than Glasgow. Joe was imprisoned as a conscientious objector in the First World War and later he worked as a journalist and as the head of publicity for United Artists in London. There he met Jack’s mother, Phoebe Rickards, from a more anglicised Jewish family who ran a fleet of horse-drawn carriages, and later, taxis. She had been a suffragette and was once arrested in Hyde Park. Later she was a prominent Labour member of the council in Finchley and frequently crossed swords with the local MP, Margaret Thatcher. When his mother died, Jack Pole received a handwritten letter of condolence from Mrs Thatcher, by then the Prime Minister.

This radical background left Pole with an ingrained lifelong hatred of social and racial injustice. He campaigned for the rights of Commonwealth immigrants in Britain in the 1960s and supported the struggle for black civil rights in the US. He was sent to progressive schools: first, aged 4, to the experimental Malting House School in Cambridge founded by the educationist Geoffrey Pyke, which Pole disliked, and then King Alfred School in Hampstead where he was much happier.

On leaving school he went straight into the Army and for most of his six years in uniform he served in antiaircraft batteries, at Scapa Flow, in Somaliland and on the South Coast trying to shoot down V1 flying bombs.

He went up to The Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1946 where he took a First in modern history. His closest friend in the college, F. M. L (Michael) Thompson, also became a distinguished professor of history. Pole could have become a French historian, but he chose to work on the then unfavoured subject of US history and studied for his PhD in Princeton from 1949. It was unusual for a young British historian to be trained in the US at this time, but it was the making of Pole’s career. It introduced him to the US, its leading historians and their most recent work. During one summer holiday he and another notable English historian, Gerald Aylmer, took a road trip across America. Pole met Marilyn Mitchell in New York. They married in 1952 and had three children. The marriage was dissolved in 1988....


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