David Pinkney (1914-1993)

David H. Pinkney was an internationally renowned scholar of French history. He was best known for his books Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris (1958), The French Revolution of 1830 (1972; translated and published by the Presses Universitaires de France in 1988), and Decisive Years in France, 1840-1847 (1986). He served on the faculty of the University of Washington department of History from 1966 until his retirement in 1984. In a memorial published in French Historical Studies in 1993, Gordon Wright wrote of Pinkney's three major books that they “together show an uncommon mastery of French history in the mid-nineteenth-century…they represent the work of a master craftsman.”

David Pinkney played a leading role in the remarkable postwar growth of the historical study of France in the United States and Canada. He was among the twenty-nine founding members of the Society for French Historical Studies; he served on the SFHS Executive Committee from 1956 to 1978. He was SFHS president for 1975-1976. He edited the journal French Historical Studies from 1966 to 1975. In 1980, he was elected president of the American Historical Association. In the same year, he received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Nantes. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984.

David Pinkney was born in Elyria, Ohio. He attended Oberlin College, where Frederick Artz cultivated his interest in history. He went on to graduate study at Harvard, where he was completing his doctorate when World War II began. During the war he was posted to Washington and London; he served as a research analyst for the Office of Strategic Services. When he left the service in 1946, he joined the Department of History at the University of Missouri. He remained at Missouri until 1966, when he took the position in Seattle.

David Pinkney married Helen Reisinger, also a Harvard PhD student, in 1942. A Widener librarian had served as matchmaker. When Pinkney retired from the University of Washington in 1985, his home department announced the creation of the David and Helen Pinkney Fellowship for graduate student research. Shortly thereafter, the Society for French Historical Studies created the David Pinkney Prize for the best book on French history written by a North American scholar.

Raymond Jonas
The University of Washington, Seattle