David M. Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachian Professor of History at Stanford University. His scholarship is notable for its integration of economic analysis with social history and political history. Kennedy has written over ten books; his first, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (1970), won the John Gilmary Shea Prize in 1970 and the Bancroft Prize in 1971. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) and won the Pulitzer in 2000 for his 1999 book Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Other awards include the Francis Parkman Prize, the Ambassador's Prize and the California Gold Medal for Literature, all of which he received in the year 2000. Kennedy was educated at Stanford and Yale. The author of many articles, he has also penned a textbook, The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, now in its thirteenth edition. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
David Kennedy: I think I am inevitably the product of my upbringing in the Catholic faith. I’m not an avidly or zealously practicing Catholic today, but neither have I had any traumatic separation from the church over my lifetime. And I think this basic idea that life on this earth is a veil of tears; it will never yield perfect happiness and perfection. That is at the center of Catholic tradition and teaching. And I do believe that that has reinforced and mutually interacted with what I’ve taken from the secular study of history. There’s an old joke about what Catholicism teaches – that it teaches that every one of us is special in the eyes of the Lord; but it also teaches that none of us is really too great. (Laughter) So that’s . . . There’s some mixture of recognizing, or appreciating – celebrating, even – human dignity and the dignity of the human experience; but not being too naïve about the possibility of perfect goodness, or perfection, or utopia in this earthly life. And I think it’s that balance in some semi-articulate way probably makes up whatever passes for my philosophy of life.
Recorded on: 7/4/07