Joyce Appleby, emerita professor of history at UCLA, died at her home in Taos, New Mexico, on Dec. 23, reportedly of complications from pneumonia. She was 87. Appleby was a nationally renowned historian who wrote prolifically about America’s founding fathers. She was considered a leading theorist of republican ideology.
She began her career at UCLA in 1981 after teaching at San Diego State University. She earned a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in 1966.
Her research on England, France and America in the 17th and 18th centuries focused on how economic developments changed people’s perceptions of politics, society and human nature. Her work on the founding era in the United States concentrated on Thomas Jefferson and his legacy.
Through a Ford Foundation grant, Appleby established the social sciences cluster, a program designed for first-year students at UCLA to fulfill the social science requirements of general education. The program integrated courses in history, anthropology, sociology and political science around a central theme, such as revolution or utopia. It became the model for the current freshman cluster courses at UCLA. Honored by the UCLA Academic Senate, she gave UCLA’s 67th Faculty Research Lecture, "Clio in the Service of Patria: Writing the History of One's Own Country,” in 1989. The College of Letters and Science gave her the Distinguished Professor Award in 1993.
She wrote her most recent books to reach out to an educated, non-academic reading public: “Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans” (2000), “The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism” (2010) and “Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination” (2013). She helped found the History News Service, which encourages historians to write about the events of the day.
“Those who were privileged to be her students know what a transformative teacher she was,” history department chair Stephen Aron said in a memorial post on the History News Network. “And we who were fortunate to count her as a colleague will forever miss her dazzling intellect, her passion for spirited debate, her immense integrity, her grace, her generosity, her hospitality, her kindness, her wit, and, let's not forget, her perfect posture. Indeed, by her example, she inspired us all to stand straighter, both literally and metaphorically.”
During her career at UCLA, she was known as a passionate teacher and an unfailing mentor.
“Not only intellectually, but also personally, Joyce served as a model,” recalled UCLA history professor Carla Gardina Pestana in a personal tribute. “Joyce was always supportive and encouraging to women scholars struggling with the issues of balancing life and career. She treated our presence in the profession as an obvious good, one that brooked no discussion.”
In 1980 Appleby was named to the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, acting as chair from 1983 to 1986. She served on the Smithsonian Institution Council from 1993 to 2001. She was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academic of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy.
Appleby also served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the Society for the History of the Early Republic.
More information is available in her obituary in the New York Times.