William Palmer

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Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., John Hope Franklin, Daniel Boorstin, C. Vann Woodward, Edmund S. Morgan, Barbara Tuchman, Eric Hobsbawn, Hugh Trevor Roper, Lawrence Stone—aside from carrying the distinction as some of the most successful and well-respected historians of the twentieth century, these scholars found their lives and careers evolving amid some of the world's pivotal historical moments. Dubbed the World War II Generation, the twenty-two English and American historians chronicled by William Palmer grew up in the aftermath of World War I, went to college in the 1930s as the threats of the Great Depression, Hitler, and Communism loomed over them, saw their careers interrupted by World War II, and faced the prospect of nuclear annihilation. They gained from their experiences the perspective and insight necessary to wrtie definitive histories on topics ranging from slavery to revolution. Engagement with the Past offers biographies of these individuals in the context of their generation's intellectual achievement. Based upon extensive personal interviews and careful reading of their work, Engagement with the Past is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a generation of historians and how they helped record and shape modern history.

"A most engaging book about the generation of British and American historians who challenged the orthodoxies sustaining some of the most cherished national myths."—Wilson Quarterly

"Palmer has written a perceptive book, which simultaneously explains much about the nature of history as intellectual discourse in the mid-twentieth century and the forces, inside and outside the academy, which converged to shape its development."—Albion

"For historians this book is a must, not because they have to read it, but because they will love it! It is also something general readers of history will grab for: personal sides of historians readers are not likely to know about. The book also places historical works into fresh and often revealing patterns. No other book lets a reader so openly into the workings of university departments or shows the closeness between good teaching and good book writing. Big as this book is, it is still a page turner."—Carl N. Degler

"A brilliantly conceived study of an important generation of historians. . . . A welcome addition to a frequently overlooked part of the badly neglected historiographical studies."—Choice

"Bill Palmer’s fascinating study reconstructs the experiences and intellectual world of a seminal generation of historians on both sides of the Atlantic. Based on a wide range of sources, including personal interviews with many of those discussed, his argument is persuasive and thought-provoking. The book greatly enhances our understanding of the development of the modern historical profession and deserves to have a very wide readership."—David L. Smith

"A fascinating, seminal study on a generation of historians whose impact on world culture we are just beginning to fully appreciate. This is intellectual history at its absolute finest. A landmark book brimming with analytical savvy, narrative flare, and sound judgment."—Douglas Brinkley

"A unique group biography of this unusually talented class of history-makers."—Giustificativo

"Addresses an important subject with wit and good writing and provides a collection of memorable bon mots from a group of notable historians."—Journal of American History

"This work is extraordinarily informative, rationally organized, and written with clarity and grace."—William B. Gatewood

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Historians, Historiography


United States History

Engagement with the Past: The Lives and Works of the World War II Generation of Historians
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