The 2012 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture
Joyce Appleby has long studied how economic developments have changed perceptions about human capacities and convictions about political order. Her research on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, France, and America has focused on the impact of an expanding world market on people’s understanding of their society and their place in it. A revolution in social theory accompanied a revolution in economic activity, according to Appleby.
Appleby, who earned a B.A. at Stanford University, an M.A. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate University, began teaching at San Diego State University in 1967. In 1981, she was appointed professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she taught until retirement in 2001. In 1990-1991, she served as the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University, where she was a fellow of Queen’s College.
The complex relationship between the American public and the country’s professional historians has fascinated Appleby. She has presided over the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society for the History of the Early Republic. As cofounder of the History News Service, she initiated a program to facilitate historians writing op-ed essays for newspapers. In her career as an historian of the founding era in the United States, she has worked to promote an understanding of the past that can help Americans deal more sanely with the present.
In her dissertation, “An American Pamphlet in Paris,” Appleby studied the career of an American publication in the opening debates of the French Revolution, a project that encompassed the foreign service of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Her first book, Ideology and Economic Thought in Seventeenth-Century England, won the 1978 Berkshire Prize. In 1982, New York University invited her to give the Phelps Lectures, which were published as Capitalism and A New Social Order: The Jeffersonian Vision of the 1790s. She gave the Becker Lectures at Cornell University in 1984.
Her abiding interest in the interacting economic and intellectual history of the American revolutionary era led to the publication of Liberalism and Republicanism in Historical Perspective, a collection of essays that appeared in 1992. Moving beyond the revolutionary era was her study of the lives and careers of those Americans born after 1776. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans came out in 2000. She has also written a presidential biography of Jefferson.
The challenge that postmodernism poses to historians became the central theme of Telling the Truth about History which Appleby wrote with Margaret Jacob and Lynn Hunt in 1994. Her A Restless Past, published in 2004, contains a collection of presidential addresses and essays. After retirement, The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism appeared in 2010.
In 1980 Appleby was named to the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg; she acted as chair from 1983 to 1986. She served on the Smithsonian Institution Council from 1993 to 2001. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the British Academy.