Joyce Appleby was born in Omaha, Nebraska on 9 April 1929 and studied at Stanford University before going on to an MA at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a PhD at Claremont Graduate University.
She began her teaching career in 1967 at San Diego State University and in 1981 was appointed professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Appleby remained at UCLA until her retirement in 2001, although this included a period at the University of Oxford in 1990-91 as Harmsworth professor of American history.
In her PhD dissertation, “An American pamphlet in Paris”, she focused on the role that American political publications had played in the debates leading up to the French Revolution. She also explored the foreign service of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Although Professor Appleby’s first published monograph was titled Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth Century England (1978), the Founding Fathers and republicanism would remain central to her research interests for the rest of her career.
In 1982, she was invited to deliver the Phelps Lectures at New York University, which were later published as Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (1984). Her collection of essays, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination, appeared in 1992. It was followed by Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans in 2000. The last of these, like The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010) and Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination (2013), was consciously designed to reach beyond a specialist academic audience to a wider readership.
Professor Appleby’s commitment to outreach was also reflected in her involvement in the History News Service, which encourages historians to offer their perspectives on current events. She regularly wrote opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times.
Deeply convinced of the value of history in helping us address the challenges of the present, Professor Appleby won support from Congress, while serving as president of the Organization of American Historians, to send 1,000 books representing American studies to 60 libraries across the globe.
She also fought off the challenge she believed postmodernism presented to historians in books such as Telling the Truth about History (co-authored with Margaret Jacob and Lynn Hunt, 1994) and Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective (co-edited with Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham and Allison Sneider, 1996).
Professor Appleby died after complications resulting from pneumonia on 23 December 2016 and is survived by two sons and a daughter.