Gordon Craig: Historian of diplomacy and of modern Germany (Obit.)

Historians in the News

Gordon A. Craig was a rare teacher, scholar, and public intellectual who, through his spoken lectures and printed words, could reach many different audiences, including students, specialists, political leaders and policy makers, the news media, and a general reading public interested to know how history impacted their lives and their world. A prolific and insightful writer, he became internationally renowned as an historian of diplomacy and of modern Germany.

His career was spent at some of the world's leading academic institutions: Princeton, where he taught for 20 years, Oxford (at Balliol College as a Rhodes Scholar in the late 1930s), Yale and, most notably, Stanford University, where in 1961 he became the first J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities.

Craig was born in Glasgow in 1913, moving to Toronto and then the United States as a child. He first enrolled as an undergraduate student at Princeton, fully intending to study law. But after taking a history course taught by a dynamic teacher, his interest changed and he never looked back. Intrigued by international history and politics, he travelled to Germany as a student in the 1930s, and became appalled by the Nazi abuses of culture and human rights, terrified about the prospect of another world war, and deeply impressed with the impact of history upon political events. He returned to the US, determined to share his experiences and passionate interests with others.

He took up his first academic post in 1939, at Yale, before moving to Princeton in 1941, also serving as a political analyst for the Office of Strategic Services and as a captain in the Marine Corps during the Second World War.

Craig became a dynamic teacher, winning the coveted Dinkelspiel Award for distinguished teaching at Stanford. His students admired him for his obvious passion for his subject, his quick wit, his powerful speaking style that made history come alive, his superbly organised lectures that made history both comprehensible to beginners and still fascinating for the more advanced, and the fact that he took them and their education very seriously. Some also initially feared taking a class from him due to his high standards and expectations around the seminar table, but eventually found comfort from the fact that he never asked more of them than he did of himself.

Writers reach many others beyond those who can attend university classes, and here Craig's reach was at its greatest. As a scholar, he was extraordinarily prolific, writing for many different audiences and feeling as comfortable with the details of diplomatic negotiation or the impact of military technology on strategic doctrine as with opera, ballet or poetry. He had a most unusual ability to select a particular phrase, quotation, document, painting, musical score, or incident, and then capture its essence and use it as an instructive vehicle to explore larger and enduring issues.

His keen and analytical mind first focused upon diplomacy and international relations. In this regard, he collaborated with others to publish The Diplomats, 1919-1939 (1953), The Diplomats, 1939-1979 (1994), and The Makers of Modern Strategy: military thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (1943), each of which focuses upon the critical role played by individuals in history.

These books were accompanied by From Bismarck to Adenauer: aspects of German statecraft (1958), Military Policy and National Security (1956), and War, Politics, and Diplomacy (1966). Always believing that he could learn from others, he revealed his deep interest in interdisciplinary work by writing the highly successful Force and Statecraft: diplomatic problems of our time (1983) with the distinguished political scientist Alexander George, a book that soon will appear in a new edition.

Given the enormous impact of Germany on so many of these subjects dealing with diplomacy, international relations, strategy, and modern history in general, it is hardly surprising that Craig would spend more and more time thinking and writing about German history. In fact, through time, he became one of the greatest historians of Germany in the world. His observations and advice about this fascinating country and the character of its people were sought by political leaders and the news media, especially at the time of German unification in 1990....

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