Google Gordon S. Wood and you’ll find dozens of well-earned introductions:
One of the foremost scholars on the American Revolution…
One of the most esteemed historians…
One of the most important authors…
One of the most distinguished, celebrated, prominent…
“Gordon S. Wood is more than an American historian. He is almost an American institution,” wrote David Hackett Fischer in his New York Times review of The Idea of America. YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter are flooded with videos, images and 140-character messages about Wood and his work.
- He is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University.
- He received his Bachelor of Arts from Tufts and his Ph.D. from Harvard.
- He taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan before joining the faculty at Brown in 1969.
- His 1992 book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, won the Pulitzer Prize for history.
- He is the author of The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969), which won the Bancroft Prize in history and the John H. Dunning Prize in 1970.
- He is author of The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (2004), which won the Julia Ward Howe Prize from the Boston Authors Club in 2005.
- His volume in the Oxford History of the United States was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in history.
- His work was referenced during a Harvard bar scene in the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting.
Earlier this week, when we surveyed our readers on Facebook about who they wanted us to interview most, Wood was the first recommendation (hat tip to John Smith). Fortunately, Wood and I exchanged a couple emails recently so we were able to complete a rapid-fire Q&A for the enjoyment of our readers. Here we go:
1 // Why is it important to study the American Revolution in the USA and abroad?
The Revolution and the beliefs and ideals that came out of it are what hold us together and make us a united people. There is no American ethnicity so the Revolutionary beliefs in liberty and equality and constitutionalism are the adhesives that make us a nation.
2 // What aspects of or questions regarding the American Revolution need to be further explored by historians?
The relationship between the Revolution and its non-military achievements, for example, in penal reform, freedom of religion, and legal reform.
3 // What do you hope the next generation of academics will remember most about your numerous contributions to the field?
I suppose it will be the emphasis I placed on republicanism.
4 // It’s not every day that an academic historian gets mentioned in an Academy Award-winning film. When did you first realize your name was dropped in Good Will Hunting (see scene below)?
I was at the Huntington Library in California and a graduate student who had gone to the opening in Cambridge MA emailed me.
5 // Aside from a pop culture reference on your Wikipedia page, what did this movie scene do, if anything, for your career?
I have no idea. I didn’t see any increased sales of my books.
6 // What history books are you most looking forward to reading in 2013?
Rick Atkinson’s third volume of his Liberation Trilogy.
7 // What can we expect from Gordon S. Wood in the next three years?
I am completing the final two volumes of the Writings of John Adams for the Library of America.
8 // You explained that “such a momentous event has inevitably attracted successive generations of historical interpretation.” Which generation of historians made the greatest impact on our overall understanding of the Revolution?
I think the generation that wrote in the 1960s, especially the work of Bernard Bailyn, has had the greatest impact on our understanding of the Revolutionary era.
9 // How would you summarize the current generation’s treatment of the Revolution?
Academic historians have not been much interested in the Revolution over the past thirty years or so. But that may be changing. How future historians will interpret the Revolution is impossible to predict. Much will depend changing circumstances in America itself.
10 // What three books about the American Revolution — other than your own — do you most recommend?
Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution; Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life; Pauline Maier, Ratification
Embedded above is the Good Will Hunting scene referencing Gordon Wood (at the 2:15 mark).