University of Rochester

Robert B. Westbrook

Position: Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History

Field: American History

Specialty: Modern cultural and intellectual history

Education: PhD, Stanford University, 1981

Curriculum vitae

Contact Info

440 Rush Rhees Library
Dept. of History
Rochester, NY 14627-0070

phone: 585.275.9349
fax: 585.756.4425

Fields of Interest:

My scholarly concerns--at their broadest--lie in the study of Western modernity, that is, the course of European and American history since the seventeenth century. But a narrower research interest for some years has been in American political culture. Underlying much of my work here has been a concern with the relationships among democratic ideals, liberal theory, and practical politics. As an intellectual historian of this theme, I have focused on the history of philosophical pragmatism, publishing an intellectual biography of John Dewey, as well as Democratic Hope, a study of the political implications of pragmatism and neo-pragmatism. As a cultural historian, more broadly construed, my published work has centered on the history of the American moral imagination--evident, I claim, in documents such as Betty Grable pin-ups and Norman Rockwell paintings. Much of my writing here has centered on the Great Depression and World War II. I am at work on a book on the struggle of Americans with the ethical demands of the war, and another on American cultural self-consciousness in the year 1939.

As this summary suggests, I am not at all uneasy about moving back and forth across the supposed divides between high and popular culture, between intellectual and cultural history. This indifference to such roadblocks is reflected in the courses I teach, as well as my writing. These diverse interests are reflected as well in the dissertations I have advised. My transnational interests are reflected in writing and teaching I do on modern American foreign policy and on transatlantic intellectual and cultural history.

One of the things I value most in the traditions of the history department here at the University of Rochester is the commitment to extending the public sphere in which historians practice their craft beyond the confines of a narrowly circumscribed professional and academic realm. History here has long been a form of social and cultural criticism. My own interventions in matters of overt public moment have of late been concentrated in the pages of The Christian Century,  Raritan, and Bookforum.

Daniel Borus and I lead the Albion Tourgee Seminar in American Cultural History, which provides a forum for the work of local historians in our field. We would extend an invitation to join us in the seminar to all those historians of the United States in Rochester and its environs who might be interested.

Graduate Fields:

I offer the following fields for the PhD qualifying examination. For explanations of fields, see the "Graduate Overview" page in the Graduate Handbook.

Teaching Field:
Modern United States (US II)

Research Fields:
American Cultural History (American History)
American Intellectual History (American History)
Modernity and Modernism (Transnational)

I will not be accepting students for admission in Fall 2015.

Courses Offered:

Representative Publications:

  • John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). Amazon»
  • In Face of the Facts: Moral Inquiry in American Scholarship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Amazon»
  • Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II  (Washington: Smithsonian Press, 2004). Amazon»
  • Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005). Amazon»
  • "Pragmatists and Politics: The Richards Bernstein and Rorty," Raritan 32 (2013): 104-122.
  • "MLK's Manifesto: Letter from Birmingham Jail at 50," Christian Century (17 April 2013): 22-27.
  • "History and Moral Inquiry," Modern Intellectual History, 9 (2012): 389-408.
  • "The Liberal Agony," Christian Century (20 September 2011): 22-31.
  • "Isolationism Reconsidered, " Raritan 30 (2010): 4-36.
  • Some of my unpublished work can be found at UR Research.