Kukla, Jon 1948–
Kukla, Jon 1948–
Born October 20, 1948, in Hutisford, WI; son of James George and Marion Ruth Kukla; married Jeanette Margita Vos, May 30, 1970 (divorced, 1991); married Kathryn Fay Prechter, October 30, 1993; children: (first marriage) Amy Marie, Jennifer Anne; (second marriage) Elizabeth Ross. Education: Carthage College, B.A. (with honors), 1970; University of Toronto, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1980. Religion: Lutheran. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, sailing.
Home—Richmond, VA. Office—Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, 1250 Red Hill Rd., Brookneal, VA 24528.
Historian, museum director, and author. State Archivist of Virginia, Richmond, research assistant, 1973-74; Virginia State Library, Richmond, editor of Virginia Cavalcade (magazine), 1974-76; Virginia State Library and Archives, assistant director, then director of historical research and publishing, 1976-90; Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA, curator of collections, 1990-92, director, 1992-98; Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, Brookneal, VA, director, beginning 2000, currently executive vice president and CEO. Instructor at Carthage College, 1973, University of Richmond, Commonwealth University, and University of New Orleans; University of Toronto fellow, 1970-71; director of summer study programs. Historical advisor to state government committees and museums; speaker. Member, Virginia Center for Humanities selection committee, 1986-87, and Loyola University visual arts committee, and Jamestown Rediscovery advisory committee, both beginning 1993. Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission State Review Board, member of history news service, 1979-86, vice chair, 1980-83, 1987, chair, 1983-86; University of Virginia Institute of Government governor's planning committee for the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, member, 1982-85. Producer of film documentaries The Long Weekend, 1993, and Brothers in Art, 1996.
American Historical Association (member of program committee, 1987), National Trust for Historic Preservation, Virginia Historical Society, Louisiana Historical Society, Louisiana Association of Museums (member of council, 1991-93), Southern Historians Association (member of program committee, 1985; member of membership committee, 1992), Association of Documentary Editing (director of publications, 1979-89, member of council, 1979-80, member of publications committee, 1981-83, member of editing committee, 1986-87).
National Endowment for the Humanities travel-to-collections grant, 1984; Michael Kraus research grant, American Historical Association, 1991-92.
Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1643-1776, Virginia State Library (Richmond, VA), 1983.
(Editor) The Bill of Rights: A Lively Heritage, Virginia State Library (Richmond, VA), 1987.
(Editor) Fiske Kimball, The Capitol of Virginia: A Landmark of American Architecture, Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, VA), 1989, new edition, 2002.
Political Institutions in Virginia, 1619-1660 (Ph.D. thesis), Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor, with Elizabeth R. Herbener) The General Assembly of Virginia, 11 January 1978-27 April 1989: A Register of Members, Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, VA), 1990.
(Editor and author of introduction) A Guide to the Papers of Pierre Clément Laussat, Napoleon's Prefect for the Colony of Louisiana and of General Claude Perrin Victor at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Historic New Orleans Collection (New Orleans, LA), 1993.
(With daughter, Amy Kukla) Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution (juvenile), PowerKids Press (New York, NY), 2002.
A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Amy Kukla) Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (juvenile), PowerKids Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Mr. Jefferson's Women, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to journals, including American Historical Review. Member of advisory council, Biographical Dictionary of Early Pennsylvania Legislators, 1984-90; member of editorial advisory board, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1982-84.
Jon Kukla is a historian and museum director who has spent much of his career working to preserve archival documents, create museum exhibits, and preserve historic sites in Virginia and Louisiana. A graduate of the University of Toronto, Kukla began working at the Virginia State Library and Archives in the early 1970s. As the library's director of historic research and publishing until 1990, he was instrumental in making available a number of documents and information to the public, and his biographical portraits comprising Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1643-1776 were praised by History reviewer Raymond C. Dingledine, Jr., as "useful for the insights they provide into the political institutions of colonial Virginia." Kukla's Ph.D. thesis, published in 1989 as Political Institutions in Virginia, 1619-1660, was recommended by William and Mary Quarterly contributor Martin H. Quitt as "the fullest modern study" of the first American colony to convene a popular assembly. Noting that Kukla's central thesis—that the colony's increasingly stratified but stable society is reflected in the development of a two-chamber assembly that political leaders wished to model on the English system—might find some argument, Quitt praised the historian as "a solid researcher who never fails to inform and engage the reader."
In his highly praised A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, Kukla studies the background and consequences of the arrangement between the United States and France that in April of 1803 doubled the size of the former and made the latter over fifteen million dollars richer. The concept of Manifest Destiny—that American democracy should spread across the continent from sea to sea—was one result of the Louisiana Purchase; others were the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, the settlement of the central plains, and, ultimately, the reshaping of the country's economic infrastructure that helped spark the U.S. Civil War. As Susan Dunn noted in the New York Times Book Review, in the book's 430 pages Kukla "recounts the colorful story of the long and complicated struggles in the 1780s and '90s for unimpeded use of the [Mississippi] river and its southernmost port. The Louisiana Purchase itself was merely the unexpected coda to two decades of painstaking—and fascinating—negotiations."
Setting the historical stage of the land deal, Kukla describes the development of French Louisiana and explains the reasons for its economic downturn in the late 1700s as overtaxed and overgoverned French colonists left for the free land available in Kentucky and Tennessee after Spain took control of the region. Growing tensions between Spain and the United States over control of the Mississippi River dissolved after the French Revolution, when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired Louisiana in the hopes of gaining greater influence in the Americas. Only the slave uprising in Santo Domingo (modern-day Haiti) led by Toussaint L'Ouverture was able to thwart Napoleon's ambitions; needing funds to quell the rebellion, the French government decided to rid itself of problematic Louisiana and fund its war effort with the help of the United States. Within only three weeks the deal was done, and the 565 million acres that eventually was divided up into the thirteen states of the Midwest were now within the reach of any American with ambition and a will to cross the Mississippi.
"Kukla writes well," noted Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Andro Linklater of A Wilderness SoImmense, "and his sharply defined portraits are a delight." Calling the book "hugely entertaining and wonderfully informative," the critic added that Kukla's volume "reminds us that history starts in our imaginations, today as it did 200 years ago." Noting that the complex topic resulted in some digressions, Dunn wrote that, while "Kukla's book is sometimes lacking in focus … his knowledgeable enthusiasm for his subject and the liveliness and breadth of his narrative make up for its shortcomings." Booklist contributor Brendan Driscoll maintained that the "level of detail" Kukla employs will satiate fans of history, while "the uninitiated will enjoy the thorough explanations of background events like the French Revolution." In Library Journal Charles L. Lumpkins dubbed A Wilderness So Immense "richly detailed" and accessible, while a contributor to Publishers Weekly praised Kukla's efforts, writing: "Rarely does a work of history combine grace of writing with such broad authority."
In addition to his work as a practicing historian, Kukla has also joined his daughter, Amy, to author books for younger readers, among them Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution and Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In addition, his editorship of The Bill of Rights: A Lively Heritage was praised by a Journal of Southern History critic as a "detailed examination of the background and meaning" of that crucial U.S. document.
The inspiration for Kukla's 2007 book, Mr. Jefferson's Women, came about after he attended a conference on Thomas Jefferson's affair with his slave Sally Hemings. After discovering that there were no books on the subject of Jefferson's relationship with women, Kukla decided to write the book himself. The book looks at the women who impacted Jefferson's life—from his spurned proposal to Rebecca Burwell and aggressive pursuits of his married neighbor Elizabeth Moore Walker to his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings, who bore several of his children. Kukla's basic argument in all this is that, as Jefferson aged, he became increasingly uncomfortable with women to the point of becoming predatory and misogynistic, painting what many critics considered a quite unflattering picture of the third president of the United States. Library Journal reviewer Thomas J. Schaeper noted that although he wasn't convinced by the book's argument, believing that Kukla "reaches too many conclusions based on supposition rather than solid evidence," he felt that the author "knows his subject well" and that his writing is "fluid and sparkling." New York Times Book Review critic Stacy Schiff was also skeptical of Kukla's argument, but contended that he "knows his period. And he is at ease with his Virginia history." "This is a useful, if flawed, contribution to our knowledge of, perhaps, our most fascinating Founding Father," remarked Jay Freeman in his review of the book for Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, April, 1990, review of The Bill of Rights: A Lively Heritage, p. 645.
Booklist, May 1, 1991, review of The Bill of Rights, p. 1696; October 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution, p. 414; March 15, 2003, Brendan Driscoll, review of A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, p. 1272; August 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women, p. 29.
History: Review of New Books, March, 1982, Raymond C. Dingledine, Jr., review of Speakers and Clerks of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1643- 1776, p. 109.
Journal of Southern History, February, 1988, review of The Bill of Rights, p. 155.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of A Wilderness So Immense, p. 209; July 15, 2007, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Charles L. Lumpkins, review of A Wilderness So Immense, p. 97; July 1, 2007, Thomas J. Schaeper, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women, p. 99.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 20, 2003, Andro Linklater, review of A Wilderness So Immense, p. 6.
New York Times Book Review, April 13, 2003, Susan Dunn, "How the West Was Bought," p. 15; October 14, 2007, Stacy Schiff, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 2003, review of A Wilderness So Immense, p. 63; June 4, 2007, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women, p. 38.
Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2008, review of Mr. Jefferson's Women.
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October, 1990, Charles B. Hosmer, Jr., review of The Capitol of Virginia: A Landmark of American Architecture, p. 670.
Washington Post Book World, April 27, 2003, Jonathan Yardley, review of A Wilderness So Immense.
William and Mary Quarterly, July, 1990, Martin H. Quitt, review of Political Institutions in Virginia, 1619-1660, pp. 437-440.
Jon Kukla Home Page,http://jonkukla.com (June 27, 2008).