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Stephen Ambrose

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Stephen Edward Ambrose
2001 premiere of Band of Brothers
Born January 10, 1936(1936-01-10)
Lovington, Illinois
Died October 13, 2002 (aged 66)

Stephen Edward Ambrose (January 10, 1936 – October 13, 2002) was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He was a long time professor of history at the University of New Orleans and the author of many best selling volumes of American popular history. Beginning late in his life and continuing after his death, however, many reports and evidence have continued to surface documenting long time patterns of plagiarism, falsification, and inaccuracies in many of his published writings and other work. In response to one of the early reports, Ambrose said he was not "out there stealing other people's writings."


[edit] Early life

Ambrose was born in Lovington, Illinois to Rosepha Trippe Ambrose and Stephen Hedges Ambrose. His father was a physician who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Ambrose was raised in Whitewater, Wisconsin,[1] where he graduated from Whitewater High School. His family also owned a farm in Lovington, Illinois and vacation property in Marinette County, Wisconsin.[citation needed] He attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was a member of Chi Psi Fraternity and played on the University of Wisconsin football team for three years.[2]

Ambrose originally wanted to major in pre-medicine, but changed his major to history after hearing the first lecture in a U.S. history class entitled "Representative Americans" in his sophomore year. The course was taught by William B. Hesseltine, whom Ambrose credits with fundamentally shaping his writing and igniting his interest in history.[3] While at Wisconsin, Ambrose was a member of the Navy and Army R.O.T.C.. He graduated with a B.A. in 1957. He also married his first wife, Judith Dorlester, in 1957, and they had two children, Stephenie and Barry. According to Ambrose, Judith died at age 27, when he was 29.[4] A year or two later he married his second wife, Moria Buckley, and adopted her three children, Hugh, Grace, and Andrew.[5] Ambrose received a master's degree in history from Louisiana State University in 1958, studying under T. Harry Williams.[3] Ambrose then went on to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1963, under William B. Hesseltine.[6][3]

[edit] Career

[edit] Academic positions

Ambrose served as a professor of history at several universities from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, having spent the bulk of his time at the University of New Orleans, where he was Boyd Professor of History.[6] During the academic year 1969-70, he was Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the Naval War College. In 1970, while teaching at Kansas State University, Ambrose participated in heckling of Richard Nixon during a speech the president gave on the KSU campus. Given pressure on the KSU administration and having job offers elsewhere, upon finishing out the year Ambrose offered to leave and the offer was accepted.[7][4] Ambrose also taught at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Rutgers University, U.C. Berkeley, and a number of European schools.[3]

Ambrose was the founder of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans and President of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. The National Geographic Society provided Ambrose with an Explorer-in-Residence position.[8]

[edit] Writings

Ambrose's earliest works concerned the Civil War. He wrote biographies of the generals, Emory Upton and Henry Halleck, the first of which was based on his dissertation.[9]

Early in his career, Ambrose was mentored by World War II historian Forrest Pogue.[10][11] In 1964, Ambrose took a position at Johns Hopkins as the Associate Editor of the Eisenhower Papers, a project aimed at organizing, cataloging and publishing Eisenhower's principal papers. From this work and discussions with Eisenhower emerged an article critical of Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle, which had depicted Eisenhower as politically naîve, when at the end of World War II he allowed Soviet forces to take Berlin, thus shaping the Cold War that followed.[12] Ambrose expanded this into a book, Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945: The Decision to Halt at the Elbe.[13]

In 1964, after Eisenhower had read Ambrose's biographies of Civil War generals Henry Halleck and Emory Upton and his history of West Point, Ambrose was commissioned to write the official biography of former president and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower.[13] This resulted in a two-volume work, published in 1970 and 1984, that is considered "the standard" on the subject.[14] Ambrose also wrote a three-volume biography of Richard Nixon. Although Ambrose was a strong critic of Nixon, the biography is considered fair and just regarding Nixon's presidency.[15]

His books, Band of Brothers (1992) and D-Day (1994), presented from the view points of individual soldiers in World War II, brought his works into mainstream American culture. His Citizen Soldiers, and The Victors became bestsellers. He also wrote the popular book, The Wild Blue, that looked at World War II aviation. His other major works include Undaunted Courage about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Nothing Like It in the World about the construction of the Pacific Railroad.

[edit] Television, film, and other activities

The HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers (2001), for which he was an executive producer, glorified American troops and helped sustain the fresh interest in World War II that had been stimulated by the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 and the 60th anniversary in 2004. Ambrose also appeared as a historian in the ITV television series, The World at War, which detailed the history of World War II. He was the military adviser for the movie Saving Private Ryan. In addition, Ambrose served as a commentator for Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, a documentary by Ken Burns.[8]

In addition to his academic work and publishing, Ambrose operated a historical tour business, acting as a tour guide to European locales of World War II.[9]

[edit] Awards

In 1998, he received the National Humanities Medal.[1]. In 2000, Ambrose received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honorary award the Department of Defense offers to civilians.[8] In 2001, he was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for Distinguished Service from the Theodore Roosevelt Association.[16] Ambrose won an Emmy as one of the producers for the mini-series Band of Brothers.[8] Ambrose also received the George Marshall Award, the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award, the Bob Hope Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the Will Rogers Memorial Award.[8]

[edit] Final years

After retiring, he maintained homes in Montana and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.[9] A longtime smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2002. His condition deteriorated rapidly and seven months after the diagnosis he died, at the age of 66. He was survived by his wife Moira and children Andy, Barry, Hugh, Grace, and Stephenie.[1]

[edit] Criticism

[edit] Plagiarism controversy

In 2002, Ambrose was accused of plagiarizing several passages in his book The Wild Blue by Sally Richardson and others.[17][18] Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard reported that Ambrose had taken passages from Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.[19] Ambrose had footnoted sources, but had not enclosed in quotation marks, numerous passages from Childers' book.[18][20] Ambrose and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, released an apology as a result.[citation needed]

Ambrose asserted that only a few sentences in all his numerous books were the work of other authors. He offered this defense:

I tell stories. I don't discuss my documents. I discuss the story. It almost gets to the point where, how much is the reader going to take? I am not writing a Ph.D. dissertation.

I wish I had put the quotation marks in, but I didn't. I am not out there stealing other people's writings. If I am writing up a passage and it is a story I went to tell and this story fits and a part of it is from other people's writing, I just type it up that way and put it in a footnote. I just want to know where the hell it came from.[18]

A Forbes investigation of his work found cases of plagiarism involving passages in at least six books, with a similar pattern going all the way back to his doctoral thesis.[21] The History News Network lists seven of Ambrose's works--The Wild Blue, Undaunted Courage, Nothing Like It In the World, Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, Citizen Soldiers, The Supreme Commander, and Crazy Horse and Custer--that copied twelve authors.[20]

[edit] Inaccuracies and falsifications

Veterans of troop carrier units who transported paratroopers in the American airborne landings in Normandy have severely criticized Ambrose for portraying them as unqualified and cowardly in several of his works, including Band of Brothers and D-Day. He characterized them as "cranks" when they asked that he make changes to passages in his books.[22] In 1995, U.S. Army Air Corps veterans objected to his characterization of C-47 pilots as untrained and incompetent in the Normandy invasion. A letter-writing campaign asserted that Ambrose did not interview a single troop carrier pilot from among the 1,642 who participated in Operation Neptune. He relied only on short quotes from some paratroopers critical of the jumps. He was also accused of failing to follow through on promises to correct the record before his death.[22]

Controversy also surrounds two separate accounts by Ambrose where he implied cowardice by British coxswains during the landings on Omaha Beach. One writer claims that the first account was drawn from a work by S.L.A. Marshall.[22] The second account is considered to have been drawn from the oral history of an infantryman who claimed publicly that when the coxswain of a landing craft tried to lower the ramp 100 yards from shore and begin offloading, a sergeant held a gun to the coxswain's head and ordered him to go in farther[23], though other veterans of the landing have denied that the incident took place[24].

A number of journal reviews sharply criticized the research and fact checking of Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869, Ambrose's non-academic popular history published in August, 2000, about the construction of the Pacific Railroad between Council Bluffs, Iowa and the San Francisco Bay at Alameda. Reviewer Walter Nugent observed that it contained "annoying slips" such as mislabeled maps, inaccurate dates, geographical errors, and misidentified word origins,[25] while Don L. Hofsommer agreed that the book "confuses facts" and that "The research might best be characterized as 'once over lightly'."[26]

A front page article published in The Sacramento (CA) Bee on January 1, 2001, entitled "Area Historians Rail Against Inaccuracies in Book,"[27] listed more than sixty instances identified as "significant errors, misstatements, and made-up quotes" in the book documented in a December, 2000, fact checking paper compiled by three long time Western railroad researchers who specialize in the history of the Pacific Railroad,[28][20][29] while on January 11, 2001, Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove reported in his column, The Reliable Source, that a co-worker had found a "serious historical error" in the same book that "a chastened Ambrose" promised to correct in future editions.[30] (The corrections identified in the researchers' report were subsequently incorporated without additional comment in the paperback edition of the book published in 2001.)

[edit] The Eisenhower controversy

Two of Ambrose's statements regarding his interaction with President Eisenhower have been questioned: that Eisenhower initiated the biography project and that he spent "hundreds of hours" with the former president in preparation of the manuscript.

Ambrose often claimed that he was solicited by Eisenhower after the former president had read and admired Ambrose's life of General Henry Halleck. But Tim Rives, Deputy Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Center, says it was Ambrose who contacted Eisenhower and suggested the project,[31][32] as shown by a letter from Ambrose found in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

After Eisenhower's death in 1969, Ambrose made repeated claims to have had a unique and extraordinarily close relationship with him over the final five years of the former President's life. In an extensive 1998 interview, for instance, Ambrose stated that he spent "a lot of time with Ike, really a lot, hundreds and hundreds of hours" interviewing Eisenhower on a wide range of subjects, and that he had been with him "on a daily basis for a couple years" before his death "doing interviews and talking about his life."[4] Rives has stated, however, that a number of the interview dates Ambrose cites in his 1970 book, The Supreme Commander, cannot be reconciled with Eisenhower's personal schedule. The former president's diary and telephone show that the pair met only three times, for a total of less than five hours.[31][13] Later, Ambrose was less specific when citing dates of interviews with Eisenhower.[31][32]

[edit] Works

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c Richard Goldstein, "Stephen Ambrose, Historian Who Fueled New Interest in World War II, Dies at 66," New York Times, October 14, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  2. ^ Historian Stephen Ambrose dies CNN, October 14, 2002.
  3. ^ a b c d Stephen E. Ambrose bio by Stephen Ambrose.
  4. ^ a b c Interview with Stephen Ambrose May 22, 1998, Academy of Achievement, Washington, D.C.
  5. ^ Stephen Edward Ambrose – biography
  6. ^ a b Christian A. Hale, "Stephen Ambrose Dies," Perspectives, December, 2002.
  7. ^ [ The Best Man] New York Times Review of Books. Alan Brinkley. July 16, 1987.
  8. ^ a b c d e Historian Steven Ambrose Dead at 66, National Geographic News, October 15, 2002.
  9. ^ a b c M. R. D. Foote, "Stephen Ambrose: Historian and author of Band of Brothers," The Independent, October 14, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  10. ^ Art Jester. Ambrose Installs New Faith in Some Old Heroes. Lexington Herald-Leader. November 9, 1997.
  11. ^ Gwendolyn Thompkins. Ambrose to Leave Historic Legacy: UNO Prof in Colin Powell’s Camp. Times-Picayune. April 30, 1995.
  12. ^ Stephen E. Ambrose, "Refighting the Last Battle: The Pitfalls of Popular History," by Stephen E. Ambrose, Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 49, no. 4 (Summer 1966), pp. 294-301.
  13. ^ a b c Timothy D. Rives, "Ambrose and Eisenhower: A View from the Stacks in Abilene," History News Network, May 17, 2010.
  14. ^ Jim Newton, "Books & Ideas: Stephen Ambrose's troubling Eisenhower record," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2010, accessed May 26, 2010. "His work on Eisenhower is penetrating and readable, lively, balanced and insightful. Indeed, these efforts have long stood alongside Fred Greenstein's 'The Hidden-Hand Presidency' as the standards against which other Eisenhower scholarship is judged."
  15. ^ Neuhaus, Richard J. "Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962, by Stephen E. Ambrose" (book review), Commentary Magazine, August 1987. "Nixon is competently, sometimes brightly, written, and one gets the impression that Ambrose is striving, above all, to be assiduously fair."
  16. ^ Theodore Roosevelt Association, The Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal Recipients.
  17. ^ Williams, Robert Chadwell. The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History. Armonk NY: M E Sharpe Inc (2003) ISBN 0765610930 pp 88-89
  18. ^ a b c David D. Kirkpatrick, "As Historian's Fame Grows, So Does Attention to Sources," New York Times, January 11, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  19. ^ Writing History PBS News Hour discussion of plagiarism by historians, January 28, 2002.
  20. ^ a b c "How the Ambrose Story Developed," History News Network, June 2002.
  21. ^ Mark Lewis, "Ambrose Problems Date Back To Ph.D. Thesis," Forbes, May 10, 2002.
  22. ^ a b c Randy Hils, An Open Letter to the Airborne Community on the History of OPERATION NEPTUNE, June 6, 1944 January 17, 2003.
  23. ^ C-SPAN recording of Sgt Slaughter at the Eisenhower Center, New Orleans, May 1994
  24. ^
  25. ^ Walter Nugent, Review: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose, The Journal of American History, vol. 88, no. 2 (Sep. 2001), p. 657.
  26. ^ Don L. Hofsommer, untitled review, Technology and Culture, vol. 43, no. 1 (Jan. 2002), pp. 169-170.
  27. ^ Barrows, Matthew "Area Historians Rail Against Inaccuracies in Book". The Sacramento Bee, January 1, 2001
  28. ^ Graves, G.J., Strobridge, E.T., & Sweet, C.N.The Sins of Stephen E. Ambrose The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum (, December 19, 2000
  29. ^ Stobridge E. (2002). Stephen Ambrose: Off the Rails. History News Network.
  30. ^ Grove, Lloyd "The Reliable Source" The Washington Post, January 11, 2001
  31. ^ a b c Rayner, Richard (April 26, 2010). "Channelling Ike". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  32. ^ a b Goldman, Russell (April 27, 2010). "Did Historian Stephen Ambrose Lie About Interviews with President Dwight D. Eisenhower?". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 

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