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Appleby, Joyce Oldham (1929–) - History of Modern Political Thought

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Joyce Oldham Appleby was born on April 29, 1929, in Omaha, Nebraska, of English, Scotch-Irish, and Norwegian ancestry. She attended public schools in Omaha, Dallas, Kansas City, Evanston, Phoenix, and Pasadena. Her father was in business, her mother a full-time homemaker. Joyce’s older sister, she reports, had a great influence on her as a child, “raising a standard of excellence and generally bullying me into caring for intellectual virtues.”

Appleby attended Stanford University as an undergraduate student, earning the bachelor’s degree in 1950. She worked for Mademoiselle magazine, the Pasadena Star-News , and in advertising before obtaining her first academic job. Appleby attended the University of Santa Barbara and Clarement Graduate School, earning the master’s degree and then the Ph.D. in history in 1959 and 1966. She decided to become a historian because of “a very early, unexamined fascination with the complexity of human beings and their social enactments.” She loves the coherence, she reports, “that can sometimes be achieved in reconstructing the past, despite the complexity of causes and influences playing upon events.”

From 1967 to 1981 Appleby taught at San Diego State University, attaining the ranks of professor of history and associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters. In 1981 she took a job as professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles. She served as department chair from 1987 to 1988, and in 1991 was named Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford for the academic year. Appleby continues to teach at UCLA.

Among her most significant achievements, Appleby counts the innovative program she directed for general education requirements in the social sciences and a course she developed, “Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective,” which graduate students teach to undergraduates. Appleby was also instrumental in getting Congress to appropriate $2 million for sending collections of works on the United States to foreign universities and colleges that have American studies courses but inadequate resources for building libraries.

The author, co-author, or editor of five books and over thirty articles, Appleby is an award-winning writer as well as teacher, having received the Berkshire Prize for her second book, Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England . Her most recent book, Telling the Truth About History , has brought Appleby and co-authors Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob further scholarly attention. An account of the historical profession’s encounters with postmodernism and multiculturalism, Telling the Truth looks to a modified reawakening of Enlightenment sensibilities in order to create a history sufficiently far-reaching and inclusive to be a “true” accounting.

Former president of the Organization of American Historians, Appleby is also an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has served on the editorial boards of numerous journals and other publications, including the American Historical Review , the William and Mary Quarterly , and the Journal of American Studies . Her most recent fellowship was with the Guggenheim Foundation, and she currently serves on the editorial boards of American National Biography , the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Revue Française d’Etudes Américaines , and the Journal of the American Republic . She also serves on the advisory committees for the Papers of Thomas Jefferson and the Adams Papers.

Now a widow, Joyce Oldham Appleby was married to Andrew Bell Appleby, a historian of modern Europe at San Diego State University. She has three children and two granddaughters. Her principal hobby is gardening, although her interests include politics and literature. She also enjoys her active participation in the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. Appleby, recipient of UCLA’s College of Science and Letters Distinguished Professor Award in 1993, lectures widely.

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