Jack Pole, 1922-2010

April 8, 2010

A British expert on American history who was widely acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic has died.

Jack Pole was born in London on 14 March 1922 and attended a progressive school in Hampstead.

After serving as an anti-aircraft officer in the Second World War, he obtained a first in modern history at The Queen's College, Oxford, and then went to Princeton University for his PhD.

He returned to England in 1953 to become a lecturer at University College London, and then reader in American history and government at the University of Cambridge.

He became a fellow and then vice-master of Churchill College, Cambridge before taking up Oxford's Rhodes professorship in American history and institutions from 1979 to 1989.

While at Princeton, Professor Pole and his friends drove across the US in an old Chevrolet. As his father worked as the chief London publicist for United Artists, they received a warm welcome in Hollywood.

He was later appointed to visiting academic posts at institutions including the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University.

Although his first-hand knowledge of the country was obviously important, Professor Pole stressed the value of an outsider's perspective.

His scepticism about uncritical claims for American "exceptionalism" and "early American democracy" enabled him to break new ground in Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (1966). A textbook, Foundations of American Independence, 1763-1815 (1973), and another major revisionist work, The Pursuit of Equality in American History (1978), followed.

Even in retirement, Professor Pole continued to produce important books: the co-edited Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (1991), a definitive annotated edition of The Federalist Papers (2005) and, just this year, Contract and Consent: Representation and the Jury in Anglo-American Legal History.

Michael Heale, emeritus professor of American history at Lancaster University, said: "Jack Pole was one of the leading UK historians of America of his generation and one of the first to command the high respect of top US scholars, particularly for his path-breaking research into the colonial and revolutionary eras.

"His detailed work on the evolution of representative politics helped to explain the American Revolution; equally nuanced was his interpretation of a central theme in his classic, The Pursuit of Equality in American History."

Professor Pole died on 30 January 2010 and is survived by a son and two daughters.


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