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: Whom would you like to interview and what would you ask them?
David Kennedy: The question takes me back to a time when I was a student in Italy in 1961. And I found myself on a hillside in Sardinia, which at that time was extremely isolated from Italy and from the rest of Europe. It was before all those big resorts on the coast … were built and so on. And I found myself talking to a shepherd up on this hillside. We could barely converse. I spoke reasonably good Italian, but he spoke a dialect and not very good official Italian. But we managed to have a conversation. And he was filled with misconceptions about the world – gross misconceptions – about things that just weren’t . . . had no factual basis whatsoever. And I . . . If I could have a conversation with somebody, if I could reincarnate him – I’m sure he’s deceased by now – it would be with him and to ask him what he aspired to. If we could imaginatively transport him to a place where we could give him an idea that he had a range of choices in the world, what would he choose? What would he want for himself? What would he want for his family? It’s people like that – people who don’t have the resources to have the imagination, to even wonder about changing their circumstance, or how they might do things differently in the world. And that’s a billion plus people in this world today that are in that circumstance – living barely at subsistence level. They’re not free in the sense that they have the capacity to concern themselves with anything other than their very meager, daily bread. That’s the kind of person I would like to talk to if we could give them some kind of injection so that they could imagine a world in which their lot could be different.
Recorded on: 7/4/07