William Goetzmann, who won Pulitzer for 1967 book on exploration of American West, dies at 80

By Jamie Stengle, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Goetzmann dies

DALLAS — William H. Goetzmann, who won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1967 for his book “Exploration and Empire,” which looked at journeys exploring the American West in the 19th century, has died. He was 80.

Goetzmann, a longtime University of Texas at Austin professor, died Sept. 7 from congestive heart failure at his home in Austin, his son, William N. Goetzmann,told The Associated Press on Friday.

William H. Goetzmann taught at the University of Texas at Austin for more than 40 years before retiring in 2005.

“He was a brilliant man. He was full of ideas. He was very much an enthusiast about ideas and research, but also an enthusiast about reaching a broader group of people. He was interested about sharing his enthusiasm with the public,” said his son, a finance professor at Yale School of Management who co-authored a book with his father on the art of the American West called “The West of the Imagination” that was turned into a PBS series in 1985.

William H. Goetzmann also released a book just last year called “Beyond the Revolution,” which explores the ideas of America’s great thinkers from 1776 to 1900.

His book “Exploration and Empire” also won the Francis Parkman Prize in 1967, an award given by the Society of American Historians for the best nonfiction book on America.

In a 1966 review of “Exploration and Empire” in the New York Times, David Lavender said that by explaining the exploration of the American West as a systematic process, Goetzmann “has achieved a feat of historical discovery as notable in its own way as were some of the physical excursions into the West that he describes so well.”

Lavender also notes that the book is written with “uncluttered, nonacademic, interesting and unpretentious prose.”

Steven Hoelscher, who read Goetzmann’s book “Exploration and Empire” as a graduate student and then worked with him at UT, called the book “encyclopedic.”

“The care with primary sources that went into it is something that we all try to obtain,” said Hoelscher, chair of the American studies department at UT and a professor of American studies.

The book, he said, showed that the exploration of the American West was “a process of state-building” by the U.S.

Goetzmann, who was born July 20, 1930, in Washington, D.C., and who grew up in St. Paul, Minn. before moving to Houston as a teenager, earned a doctorate at Yale University and taught there before going to the University of Texas, where he was chair of the history department for one year and chair of the American studies department for 16 years.

“A trailblazer in more than his writings and classrooms, he was instrumental in integrating the faculty of the university by recruiting some of the first black professors to the College of Arts and Sciences,” the Texas school said in a statement.

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