In Memory of Robert Griffith by Richard Breitman
On January 25 American University lost an eminent figure with the death of Robert Griffth, professor of history and chair of the History Department. He died of complications of cancer.
Griffith was the author of The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (1970; 2nd edition, 1987), which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize of the Organization of American Historians. The Politics of Fear is available in digital format through net.Library, and was selected for inclusion in the first stage of the History E-Book Project of the American Council of Learned Societies. His articles and essays appeared in many scholarly journals, including the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, Reviews in American History, and Business History Review. Among his edited works are: The Specter: Original Essays on McCarthyism and the Cold War (1974); Ike’s Letters to a Friend: 1941-1958 (1984); and Major Problems in American History Since 1945 (1992). A new edition of Major Problems in American History since 1945, co-edited with Paula Baker, appeared in January, 2001; a 3rd edition in January 2007. Griffith held fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute. He served on the Board of Editors of the Journal of American History. He received teaching awards from the University of Georgia and from the Danforth Foundation. He also served as Treasurer of the Organization of American Historians.
Robert Griffith was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Southern Indiana. He earned his BA at DePauw University, where he was a Rector Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received his MA and PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. He taught at the University of Georgia and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he also served as Chair of the Department of History.
From 1989 to 1995, Griffith served as Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland at College Park. At Maryland, he helped implement a rigorous new core curriculum, dramatically increased the presence of women and minority faculty and staff, coordinated planning and design for the new $130 million Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and helped make the college a campus leader in the use of innovative information technologies. From 1995 to 1997, he served as Provost at American University, where he improved faculty recruitment, sharply increased the presence of minority faculty, and enhanced the role of new information technologies. He then joined the History Department.
Griffith took over leadership of the Department’s Undergraduate Committee. He created and promoted a History Day, at which undergraduate majors gave oral presentations based on their senior theses. He tested measures of assessing the effectiveness of the History major.
He served as chair of the History Department from 2004 to 2010. In that time, the department grew in size and improved in quality, in considerable part because of his political skills and his ability to appraise talent. The History Department gained many more majors during his tenure, and its course enrollments grew steadily.
Griffith always was an advocate for public history—ways of presenting history to broad public audiences. As chair, he was even more active in this field. He now found it possible to strike agreements with government agencies and private organizations to benefit AU students. These arrangements led to internships, research opportunities, and in some cases jobs.
His last request was the establishment of the Robert Griffith Fund for the Study of Public History.