Publication Date

December 1, 2002

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Noted historian Stephen Ambrose passed away on October 13, 2002, due to lung cancer. The author of several books, including Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938 (1971) and Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945 (1997), Ambrose was a well-known figure both within the historical profession and American popular culture at large. He was Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, and was also the director emeritus of the Eisenhower Center, and founder of the National D-Day Museum, both of which are also located in New Orleans.

After receiving his MA from Louisiana State and his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Ambrose gained prominence within the profession in 1964 when former president Dwight D. Eisenhower selected him to edit his papers. The result was Ambrose's mutivolume biography, Eisenhower (1983). Ambrose later found fame and fortune with the American public as a best-selling author of such books as D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (1999) and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (1996). Ambrose’s success as a bestselling historical author came primarily from his use of narrative storytelling, which made history more vivid for the nonacademic world. Ambrose viewed himself more as a historian for the public, rather than strictly for the academic world. He put it thus on his web site:

As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next.

His success as a historian in the public sphere culminated in 2001 when his books Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest (2001) became an Emmy-winning, 13-hour miniseries on HBO, produced by Steven Spielberg.

Eventually his successful use of narrative storytelling would come back to haunt Ambrose in the last year of his life. His career as both a historian and bestselling author was clouded in 2002 by allegations of plagiarism. Despite the allegations, Ambrose remained "undaunted" himself, dedicating himself to his work, especially reflecting his fondness for the American World War II generation.

Ambrose is survived by his wife Moira; sons Hugh, Barry, and Andy; daughters Grace Ambrose and Stephanie Tubbs; two brothers; and five grandchildren.

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