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Williams Professor James MacGregor Burns Dies at 95

03:27PM / Tuesday, July 15, 2014
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James MacGregor Burns died early Tuesday at his home at age 95.

Burns was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government, Emeritus, at Williams College, from which he graduated in 1939. He was the author of more than 20 books on history, political science and political and presidential leadership and was the co-author of "Government by the People," a comprehensive textbook on democracy, politics, campaigns and elections long used in college classrooms.

Born in Burlington, he attended high school in Lexington and earned his doctorate in political science from Harvard University before returning to Williams as an instructor in 1947. He also attended the London School of Economics.

"Between then and his retirement in 1986, he gave countless students a firm grounding in American political history and played key roles in many developments at the college, including the ending of fraternities," wrote Williams President Adam Falk in a letter to the college community.  

Burns didn't just write about politics, he participated in it. He ran for the 1st Massachusetts congressional district in 1958 and was a delegate to four Democratic National Conventions. He also was a combat historian, serving in the Pacific theater in World War II, earning four battle stars.

He won the Pulitzer, as well as a National Book Award, for his 1971 biography on "Roosevelt: The Solder of Freedom." His most recent book was last year's "Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World."

"His 1978 book 'Leadership' is credited with launching the large and still growing field of leadership studies, for which, among many other honors, the University of Maryland named its James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership," wrote Falk. "He served as president of the American Political Science Association and of the International Society of Political Psychology. Williams bestowed on him both an honorary degree and Bicentennial Medal.

"Few Williams faculty, if any, have ever left a stronger legacy — at the college and in the world more broadly."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

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