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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Representative - South West England

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest manufacturer of UPV...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer / Helpdesk Engineer

£16500 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued growth an exce...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A full-service agency based in ...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy