Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Robin Higham

Academic journal article The Historian

Interview with Robin Higham

Article excerpt

Born in London in 1925, moving to the United States in 1940, and serving in the Royal Air Force from 1943 to 1947, Higham received his A.B. cum laude at Harvard, his M.A. at the Claremont Graduate School, and his Ph.D. at Harvard during the 1950s. Higham's prolific publications in aviation, military, and technological history include 20 books and 140 articles, and hundreds of edited bibliographies, guides, and journal issues in those fields as well as in U.S. western history. Higham was the first recipient of the American Military Institute's Samuel Eliot Morison Prize. Before joining the history faculty at Kansas State University in 1963, he had taught at the universities of Massachusetts and North Carolina. He founded the Sunflower University Press in 1977 and remains its president. He and his wife Barbara were married in 1950 and had four children, two now deceased. This interview was conducted at the Higham home in Manhattan, Kansas, by Roger Adelson in September 1997.

THE HISTORIAN: Why do you see yourself as a historical generalist?

HIGHAM: I see myself as a generalist partly because I have taught 29 different history courses in a wide variety of fields and because what I have written and edited cuts across a good many fields besides aviation, including the impact of technology and warfare on history. My approach to history differs from specialists, especially those in U.S. history who stake out a decade or a particular locale. Since I have concentrated on the history of aviation in this century, I've seen airplanes and airlines come and go, and I have watched technical systems evolve. By 2000, I think there will only be five airline systems operating in the world. The phenomenal growth in satellite technology and communications in recent years has further accelerated change in the twentieth century, which has been one of the patterns I have observed during my lifetime. Having studied and worked on two different continents, and having flown over many more, I have seen more of the world than most historians. As educated people become more globally conscious, there is greater need for more broadly comparative perspectives on the past. As communications and economies become more linked to each other, history itself will become global. I am lucky to have been at Kansas State University, where I could be a historical generalist while teaching undergraduate and graduate students. Generalists like me rarely get promotions or raises in most history departments, and professional organizations give most prizes and recognition to specialized accomplishment. As a historical generalist who looks at big problems to see how they have been handled, the entire past of humanity interests me. I've recently been reading anthropology and archaeology for a book I've just finished on prehistoric Crete.

THE HISTORIAN: Could you describe your Anglo-American family background?

HIGHAM: My father was British and my mother American. My father, son of a London stockbroker, went to Harrow, one of England's leading public schools. He went up to Oxford University in 1914, but when war broke out he immediately joined the army. On the Western Front, his head was creased by a sniper in 1915. During his six-month convalescence in England, he volunteered to learn Arabic since he was such a good linguist and already knew Greek, Latin, and French. He served as an interpreter in General Sir Edmund Allenby's campaign in Palestine and Syria, and became a military governor in western Turkey after the war. In 1923, he left the army because his commanding officer would not recommend him for staff college because my father disliked horses!

My father met my mother in Constantinople. Margaret Anne Stewart was born in Baxter Springs, a small town in southeastern Kansas. Her parents were divorced when she was 13, her mother being so adventuresome that you might say she was less a parent than a friend to my mother, my mother's older sister, and her younger brothers. …

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