Professor Gordon A. Craig

Historian of diplomacy and of modern Germany


Gordon Alexander Craig, historian: born Glasgow 26 November 1913; Professor of History, Princeton University 1950-61; J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities, Stanford University 1961-79 (Emeritus), Chair, History Department 1972-75, 1978-79; President, American Historical Association 1981; married 1939 Phyllis Halcomb (one son, three daughters); died Portola Valley, California 30 October 2005.

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.

His fame derived from a growing number of notable, insightful, and wide-ranging publications, including The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945 (1955), the popular Europe Since 1815 (1961), the erudite Germany, 1866-1945 (1978), the rich and nuanced The Germans (1982), Theodor Fontane: literature and history in the Bismarck Reich (1999), The Politics of the Unpolitical: German writers and the problem of power, 1770-1871 (1995) and Politics and Culture in Modern Germany (1999), a collection of essays that first appeared in the New York Review of Books.

He contributed his considerable knowledge and abilities in other ways as well. He provided wise guidance as a mentor to his graduate students and his colleagues, encouragement and thoughtful suggestions on manuscripts to other writers, advice to policy makers, direction to Stanford University as Chair of the History Department and of the Faculty Senate, guidance to his profession as the President of the American Historical Association, and a special kind of graciousness and warmth to his friends and family.

Paul Gordon Lauren

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?