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Kenneth M. Stampp, 96; Historian Altered Understanding of Slavery
"Kenneth Stampp helped revolutionize our understanding of two of the most challenging and painful subjects in all of American history: slavery and Reconstruction," said Edward L. Ayers, a Southern historian who is now president of the University of Richmond. "In 'The Peculiar Institution' he portrayed slavery as a particularly cold-blooded business in which black people were imprisoned against their will, far different from the romantic and evasive way it had been taught throughout the first half of the 20th century.
"In 'The Era of Reconstruction' Stampp showed that the period following the Civil War marked not the willful and malicious devastation of the white South by the North," Ayers added, "but rather a clear-eyed and determined attempt to fulfill what emancipation had begun."
Kenneth Milton Stampp was born in Milwaukee on July 12, 1912. At the University of Wisconsin under mentor William Hesseltine, he received his bachelor's degree in 1935, followed by a master's in 1937 and a doctorate in 1942, all in history.
Dr. Stampp's doctorate thesis led to his first book, "Indiana Politics During the Civil War" (1949), which looked at the tensions between pro-North and pro-South forces in the swing state. His other books included "And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis, 1860-1861" (1950) and "America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink" (1990).
His marriage to Katherine Mitchell ended in divorce. In 1962, he married the former Isabel Peebles Brown. She died in 1996.
Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Kenneth M. Stampp of Oakland and Sara Stampp of Berkeley; a daughter from his second marriage, Jennifer Stampp of El Cerrito, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
Dr. Stampp taught history at the University of Maryland before joining the Berkeley faculty and was, at various points in his career, a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, Oxford University and the University of London. In 1952, he received a prestigious Guggenheim fellowship, which he used to research "The Peculiar Institution," and received in 1993 Gettysburg College's Lincoln Prize for lifetime contribution in Civil War studies.
In addition to professional organizations, his memberships included the NAACP and the Berkeley chapter board of the American Civil Liberties Union.
He said in a 1996 interview that he decided on his career at a young age.
"I remember a child's biography of George Washington, and some other books that related to history which made me think very early that I wanted to be a historian," he said. "In fact, in fifth grade I told a friend of mine I was going to be a history teacher. He told me he was going to be a lawyer, and he was, and I am."