Former Head of UK History Department Publishes an Epic on Foreign Relations
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George Herring, UK alumni professor emeritus of history, retired from the university in 2005 after a 36-year teaching career, but he continues to be an influential and respected scholar of U.S. history. Herring recently published From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford University Press, 2008), a thousand-page volume that is part of the Oxford History of the United States series.

A November signing at the Washington, D.C., book store Politics and Prose—part of Herring’s nationwide book tour—was televised by C-SPAN, and the book has been named an “Editor’s Choice” by The New York Times Book Review. Kudos for Herring’s book have kept coming: From Colony to Superpower was one of five finalists for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle award in the nonfiction category and received the 2008 Robert Ferrell Prize given by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for the best book in the field.

How long does it take a scholar to write a 1,035-page, scholarly book?

“I began serious work in the summer of 1997 and finished in early 2008,” says Herring. “Of course, I was doing other things, too, during most of those years. Only after I retired was I able to devote full attention to the book.” 

Herring rates two U.S. diplomats as standouts: John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Both had an instinctive understanding of how the world works, what diplomacy is all about, and what could and could not be done in dealings with other nations. Their appreciation of the limits of power sets them apart from many diplomats and helps explain their success.”

The worst U.S. diplomat of all time?

Herring laughs. “Oh, he’s easy to identify, and, I am sorry to say, was a Kentuckian—Edward Rumsey Wing of Muhlenberg County. As Minister to Ecuador in the 1860s, he tried, first, to annex that country to the United States and then to assassinate the British ambassador. Fortunately, he drank himself to death before he could further damage U.S. interests.”

Herring's book cover

From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford University Press, 2008)

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