Re: What do you do?

Kennedy is a different kind of historian.
  • Transcript


Well what I do for a living is to try to make sense out of the American national past, and to pass on both to students . . . my students in the classroom at Stanford and to readers what my settled understanding is of one or another part of this great narrative of the . . . of the whole American experience. I’m not a historian, strictly speaking. My undergraduate training was in a program called American Studies. And I deliberately chose that because I wanted more than one disciplinary perspective on the general inquiry that I was setting out to make my life’s work, which is the nature of the American historical experience. So in my case, my graduate program at Yale in the ‘60s was two parts history, one part economics, and one part literature. So I’ve tried, I think, in my work over the last several decades to bring those various disciplinary perspectives, and information, and viewpoints from those various domains of knowledge and inquiry to bear on virtually all the work that I do. I’ve tried to teach people about the complexity of the past; about the need to be cautious in forming judgments about it; about the need to be disciplined in the use of evidence; the need to have an appreciation for the contradictions of human nature. And the suspicious character of all simple explanations for everything Recorded on: 7/4/07