dboorstin.jpgPulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Daniel Joseph Boorstin died on Feb. 28 from pneumonia. He was 89.
Boorstin studied English history and literature at Harvard University, then traveled to England as a Rhodes scholar to attend the Balliol College at Oxford. He passed the British bar exams and was one of the few Americans at that time to become a British barrister-at-law. Upon his return to the states, he completed his advanced studies as a fellow at the Yale Law School and began a distinguished career as a teacher and author.
Boorstin taught at Swarthmore, Radcliffe and Harvard until 1941 when he joined the University of Chicago faculty. He spent 25 years teaching there, and would eventually become the Preston and Sterling Morton Distinguished Service Professor of American History.
A former member of the Communist party, Boorstin testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953, where he named other members of his Communist organization. His participation in the McCarthy witch hunt was ill-received back in Chicago. Many of Boorstin’s students boycotted his classes and printed leaflets denouncing him.
Boorstin served as the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History and Technology from 1969 to 1973. In 1974, President Gerald Ford appointed him the 12th librarian of Congress. The appointment met with opposition from the American Library Institutions, an organization that claimed the job belonged to a professional librarian, and the Congressional Black Causcus, which protested his conservative views on affirmative action. Several senators also demanded that Boorstin give up writing during his time as the Congressional librarian. A distinguished author of more than a dozen history books, Boorstin refused this request. Instead, he offered to write only during his off-hours — on weekends, evenings and weekdays from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. That same year, Boorstin won the Pulitzer Prize for history for “The Americans: The Democratic Experience.” The book was the third in “The Americans” trilogy, following “The Colonial Experience” and “The National Experience.”
Boorstin held the librarian position until 1987. The final years of his life were spent writing full-time and editing for Doubleday. In 1989, he won the National Book Award for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters from the National Book Foundation.