Robert Middlekauff, a distinguished historian who wrote what is considered one of the best one-volume histories of the American Revolution as well as a study of George Washington’s experience of the War of Independence, died on March 10 at a retirement community in Pleasanton, Calif. He was 91.
The cause was complications of a stroke, his wife, Beverly Middlekauff, said. The University of California, Berkeley, announced his death in March, but it was not widely reported at the time.
Professor Middlekauff, the author of five books, spent most of his career at Berkeley, where he was the Preston Hotchkis professor of history emeritus.
He was best known for “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789” (1982), the first work published in the 13-volume Oxford History of the United States. C. Vann Woodward, an original editor of the series, praised Professor Middlekauff’s “masterful command of the subject,” and his assessment of the book has been echoed by most historians. “The Glorious Cause” was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize.
The book, a well-written, engaging narrative history, is aimed at general as well as specialist readers. It covers the period from the end of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France (also known as the French and Indian War) through the ratification of the Constitution, with its focus on the Revolutionary War. But it was published at a time when political and military history were being eclipsed by a new interest in social and cultural history.
Although the book was generally well received, some reviewers found its approach outdated. For his part, Professor Middlekauff defended the practice of narrative history: “The process of reconstructing what happened,” he said, “may be made to provide an explanation of events and their importance.”
The phrase “glorious cause” comes from George Washington, the book’s central figure. In his prologue, Professor Middlekauff noted that the title was not ironic: The Americans, he wrote, “believed that their cause was glorious — and so do I.” At a time when some historians saw the Revolution as essentially conservative, Professor Middlekauff argued that although the Americans wanted to preserve elements of their past, their “struggle was not conservative, for it was shot through with hope for the future.”