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Peers Name Historian David Kennedy ’59 Distinguished Alum
Emma Johnson '14

In the realm of American history, few names command as much respect and admiration as David Kennedy. A distinguished historian and professor emeritus with 56 years as an educator, historian and influential academic at Stanford University, David’s expertise spans a range of topics, including the Great Depression, American political and social thought, US foreign policy and the history of the North American West. With his interdisciplinary approach and profound insights, David has left an indelible mark on academia, enriching our understanding of the past and offering valuable perspectives on the challenges of the present. 

The Indispensable Role of Government in Crisis

Drawing parallels between the Great Depression and the global Covid-19 public health crisis of 2019-2023, David highlights the critical role of government in managing and mitigating crises. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, delves into the profound impact of the Great Depression, revealing how government intervention can shape the course of history. 

A Multifaceted Career

David earned his PhD in American Studies from Yale University in 1968, where he underwent training that blended history, literature and economics. This unique background has allowed him to integrate economic and cultural analysis with social and political history, providing a comprehensive understanding of the complex forces that have shaped American society. 

Influencing Generations

Beyond his acclaimed research, David’s teaching has profoundly influenced countless students for decades at Stanford University. Graduating seniors from Yale, David’s alma mater, have repeatedly elected him as their Class Day speaker, recognizing his ability to inspire and engage with his audience. His courses on twentieth century United States history, American literature, US foreign policy and more have provided a well-rounded education that goes beyond mere dates and events. They mirror the Jesuit pedagogy that shaped the beginning of David’s educational journey as a high school student. Fellow alum, Pat Moriarty ’67, says, “I believe this singular ability to integrate and analyze life from the inside out is one of the gifts we received in a Jesuit education, and no one better represents this ability than Dr. Kennedy. His contributions to the historical study of the United States in the twentieth century are unmatched. He represents the epitome in Jesuit scholarship.” 

Shaping America’s Historical Narrative

David’s contributions extended beyond the classroom through both his legacy publications and his continued participation in historical discourse. His collaboration with Lizabeth Cohen, resulting in the co-authored textbook “The American Pageant,” is a seminal work now in its seventeenth edition and has played a significant role in shaping the narrative of American history for generations of students. Longtime Prep history teacher Andy Hendricks ’83 cites the work as an “accessible, yet comprehensive perspective” on American history. 

Lasting Legacy

David’s remarkable career as a historian, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning author has left an indelible mark on the study of American history. Kennedy’s scholarship remains relevant and essential, offering valuable lessons for the challenges we face today. As a scholar who has dedicated his life to illuminating the past, David’s contributions have shaped not only academia but also our collective understanding of America’s rich and complex history. As Pat Moriarty ’67 puts it: “Seattle Prep has, in David, a graduate who truly represents for what we strive; ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.” 

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