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.
Question: Why is American history important?
David Kennedy: Well Americans should care about American history the way individuals should care about their own past and their own memory. A people without a collective memory is a people without a collective identity – in our case a national identity. So it seems to be self-evident why, in our society and any society, if members of that society don’t understand how they came to be a people, and how they came to be an organic and integrated society, they really have no collective identity whatsoever. Others, I think, need to understand in this day and age – this particular historical moment – need to understand something about the character of the society because we just loom so large on the world’s horizon. And we – for better or worse – have so much influence on what happens in all corners of the globe. So it behooves others to understand us, I think, as well as they can.