Publication Date

May 1, 1992

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Dr. Boyd C. Shafer, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Arizona, and former executive director of the American Historical Association and editor of the American Historical Review from 1953 through 1963, died on February 10, 1992, in Little Rock, Arkansas, at age 84.

Boyd was born in Crestline, Ohio, on May 8, 1907, and graduated in 1929 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa from Miami University, which awarded him an honorary L.H.D. in 1962. He obtained his M.A. from the State University of Iowa in 1930 and his Ph.D. in 1962. He taught the following decade at Stout Institute in Menomonie, Wisconsin. During and immediately following World War II, Boyd served on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in the Air Force (leaving as a captain), and in the War Department Historical Division. He then joined the Department of History at the University of Arkansas, first as an associate professor and then as professor and chair. Following his decade with the AHA, he became James Wallace Professor of History at Macalaster College, where he was chair from 1965 to 1971, and then professor at the University of Arkansas until he retired.

Boyd’s original research interest was in the French Revolution, but his publications varied widely, ranging from studies of historians to textbooks in American history for high schools. He devoted most of his scholarly life to studying nationalism, producing major studies in 1955 and 1972 and editing three editions of the stimulating pamphlet Nationalism: Interpreters and Interpretations, in the series of the AHA’s Service Center for Teachers of History.

Boyd was above all an energetic, innovative, and genial scholar-teacher-administrator who thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of his work. The decade at the center of the AHA, however, was probably the most satisfying period of his life. The Council recognized this in 1970 by granting him the Troyer Steele Anderson Award for “the most outstanding contribution to the advancement of the purposes of the Association during the preceding ten years.”

Boyd’s stewardship was critical in the AHA’s transformation from a small, prestigious association of 5,000 members—mostly men interested in America and European history who taught in colleges and universities north of the Potomac and east of Ohio—to a larger, more diverse organization. When Boyd’s stewardship ended, membership, annual income, and staff had doubled. The Association had moved from four small, crowded rooms in the Library of Congress to its own headquarters, the Review had grown substantially, and a newsletter had been added. Above all, the Association had become national, had widened its horizons to the entire world and to new approaches to history, and had begun to attract support from private foundations for expanded activities. These included programs in which Boyd’s own interest generated his fellows’ support. They brought together research and teaching and provided opportunities for young men and women throughout the nation. No doubt these changes would have occurred sooner or later, but gentle prodding from the short, rotund, pipe-smoking Midwesterner was important.

In addition to his established functions—overseeing the Review and the annual meetings, promoting and defending the cause of history, and encouraging the production of bibliographies and guides to sources, Boyd persuaded the Association to accept new responsibilities. The Professional Register, the Service Center, and a wide range of new services for teachers all owe their origins to him. The Association’s “campus” became the world, and American participation in the work of the International Committee of the Historical Sciences grew from the handful at the Paris meeting in 1950 to massive participation thirty years later. One dream of those years, establishment of an Institute of Historical Research in Washington, did not materialize, but the Association’s work then did contribute to the establishment of the Woodrow Wilson Center, in which history occupies an important position.

Robert F. Byrnes
Indiana University