Martin, James Kirby 1943-

views updated

Martin, James Kirby 1943-


Born May 26, 1943, in Akron, OH; son of Paul E. (in business; retired) and Dorothy (a homemaker; deceased) Martin; married Karen Wierwille (a book editor), August 7, 1965; children: Darcy Elizabeth, Sarah Marie, Joelle Kathryn Garrett. Education: Hiram College, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1965; University of Wisconsin—Madison, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1969.


Office—University of Houston, Department of History, 524 Arnold Hall, Houston, TX, 77204-3003. E-mail—[email protected].


Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, assistant professor, 1969-73, associate professor, 1973-79, professor of history, 1979-80, assistant provost for administration, 1972-74, vice-president for academic affairs, 1977-79; University of Houston, Houston, TX, professor of history, 1980-97, chairperson of department, 1980-83, distinguished university professor of history, 1997—.

Rutgers University, Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, visiting professor, 1978-88; University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies, research fellow, winter, 1988, and David Library of the American Revolution, scholar-in-residence; Rice University, visiting professor, fall, 1992.


American Historical Association, Institute of Early American History and Culture, Organization of American Historians, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Society for Military History, Eastern National Park and Monument Association, Arnold Expedition Historical Society, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Southern Historical Association, Texas State Historical Association, Texas Association for the Advancement of History (vice-president, 1986-91), New Jersey Historical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Alpha Theta, Pi Gamma Mu, Omicron Delta Kappa.


A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789 appeared on the U.S. Army's "Contemporary Military Reading List," 1982; R.P. McCormick Prize, New Jersey Historical Commission, 1984, for Citizen-Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield; New Jersey Society of the Cincinnati Prize, 1995, for distinguished achievement in advancing the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of American history; Hiram College Alumni Achievement Award, 1996; Homer D. Babbidge Award, Society for the Study of Connecticut History, 1998, for Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered.


Men in Rebellion: Higher Governmental Leaders and the Coming of the American Revolution, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1973.

(Editor) Interpreting Colonial America: Selected Readings, Dodd (New York, NY), 1973, 2nd edition, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

The Human Dimensions of Nation Making: Essays on Colonial and Revolutionary America, Wisconsin State Historical Society, 1976.

(Editor, with K.R. Stubaus) The American Revolution: Whose Revolution?, Robert E. Krieger (Melbourne, FL), 1977, revised edition, 1981.

In the Course of Human Events: An Interpretive Exploration of the American Revolution, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1979.

(With Mark Edward Lender) A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1982, 2nd edition, 2006.

(Editor, with Mark Edward Lender) Citizen-Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield, New Jersey Historical Society (Newark, NJ), 1982.

(With Mark Edward Lender) Drinking in America: A History, 1620-1980, Free Press (New York, NY), 1982, revised and expanded edition, 1987.

(With Randy Roberts, Steve Mintz, and Linda McMurry) America and Its Peoples: A Mosaic in the Making, Longman, Inc. (New York, NY), 1989, 5th edition, 2004.

(Editor) Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, Brandywine Press (New York, NY), 1993, 2nd edition, 1999.

Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Joseph T. Glatthaar) Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 2006.

Past general editor of the "American Social Experience" series, New York University Press; past member of editorial board of "Conversations with the Past" series, Brandywine Press, and Houston Review. Member of editorial board of New Jersey History. Past member of editorial board of Papers of William Livingston and Papers of Thomas Edison. Also coauthor of film adaptation of Drinking in America: A History, 1620-1980, released by Gary Whiteaker Co., 1984.


James Kirby Martin, a respected scholar and a distinguished professor of history at the University of Houston, has written several well-received books on early American history. Martin's book Drinking in America: A History, 1620-1980 was hailed as a "brilliant social history" by Anatole Broyard in a New York Times article. The history begins in colonial times, when Americans consumed more than six gallons of alcoholic beverages per person per year. Early Americans regarded water with suspicion as it could easily carry disease, and they believed their cider and beer would not only protect them from the cold and disease, but strengthen their constitutions and improve their general health. In 1784, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, tried to promulgate the idea that alcoholism was a disease, but his advice was little heeded, and Americans steadily increased their per capita consumption to more than seven gallons over the next thirty years.

Temperance movements were established as early as 1808, but they lost their influence during the crisis of the Civil War. When Prohibition was finally approved in 1919, many people hoped that only "hard liquor" would be affected by the new law. The severity of the legislation that was enacted outraged Americans who might have accepted a milder version of the law. In addition, according to Martin and coauthor Mark Edward Lender, the coming of the Depression required the federal government to increase its tax revenues, and thus Prohibition was doomed.

As Martin and Lender show, over the years, alcoholism was not considered to be a national or even a social problem, but rather a personal, individual, and relatively infrequent one. It was not until the 1950s that the American Medical Association declared that alcoholism was a physical disease. Since then scores of government agencies and private organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous have dedicated their work to eradicating the disease.

In Broyard's opinion: "Besides being highly readable and filled with witty and interesting asides, Drinking in America is almost amazingly free of prejudice or special pleading. It's the best kind of social history." Similarly, Ben Irwin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "This is a scholarly, informative book," adding that it "covers an astonishing amount of ground; one does not need to be an alcoholic … to appreciate its scholarship and dedication."

A later book by Martin, Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, examines the military career of the reviled general. Unknown to most of today's public, Arnold was an American hero in the beginning of the American Revolution and was pivotal in several of the American victories, without which the revolutionary effort might have failed. A general who led from the front, Arnold seized Fort Ticonderoga, captured British General John Burgoyne's army, and performed many other martial deeds that made him one of the best American generals in the early Revolutionary War. He was not rewarded for his many successes by the civilian and political leaders of the revolution and began to feel ill-used, which was a strong factor in Arnold's betrayal of the country in 1780.

Martin's book focuses on the general before he turned traitor, showing the great military career of a hero, ill-appreciated by the politicians of his time. Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero was well-received by critics. Charles K. Piehl, in his Library Journal review, expressed a little disappointment that the biography only provided a short summation of Arnold's life after his treason but complimented Martin in on his "outstanding analysis" and "grasp of details." Additionally a Booklist reviewer favorably commented that the "well-balanced revisionist biography … succeeds in humanizing Arnold and debunking much of the popular mythology." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor and historian Fred Anderson said that the book "is in many ways a remarkable example of the historian's craft."

In a more recent work on the Revolutionary War, Martin joined with Joseph T. Glatthaar to write Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution. The book relates the involvement of the Oneidas, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, in the American Revolution. Unlike most of the members of the Six Nations, the Oneidas sided with the American forces against the British and added greatly to the American cause. Starting with an anecdote about the revolutionary general Marquis de Lafayette's 1824 question in Utica, New York, about where his old Oneida allies were, Martin and Glatthaar proceed to answer the question by giving a history of the Oneida in the Revolution. Examining the Oneida culture and background, along with the actions of both loyalists and rebels during the war, the book then describes the betrayal the Oneidas experienced at the hands of the new American government and the tribe's resulting exile from their lands. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Forgotten Allies for its "research and erudition [underlying] a sad tale of fidelity betrayed."

Martin once told CA: "Pursuing the craft of history can be both frustrating and rewarding. The well-trained historian understands that there are never enough documents to comprehend past events. Writing good history, from my point of view, involves unleashing one's creative energy in prose after carefully assembling the data. Despite what some historians assert, the past does not interpret itself.

"In my own career as an academic historian, I have been influenced by a number of outstanding professors who taught me the value of mastering the art of critical analysis and interpretation. The production of good history, one of my professors argued, will always depend upon ongoing research in the archives and the creative act of interpretation. Clear writing, something sorely lacking in most academic history, is also essential to the production of useful history.

"Getting at the sources is the first step, and the second is to put aside personal opinion and political prejudice in assessing the behavior of past generations of human actors. Too often—in the rush to identify and define forces, trends, concepts, and ideologies—historians forget that human beings of all types and kinds, ordinary as well as extraordinary, initiate and direct movements and events. Thus in my own history, people are at the center. Further, the sources demonstrate that these actors rarely operate in some sort of celestial harmony. Rather, human conflict gives form to the past and drives it forward toward a meaningful present. Those who frame their history in terms of human consensus miss the fundamental reality of what provokes change over time.

"In my own writing, human conflict has been a persistent theme. Studying such grand events as the American Revolution, or looking at such recurring reform efforts as temperance and Prohibition, it is impossible to ignore conflict as the formative ingredient of the past. The analysis of human conflict allows the historian to bring perspective to the present.

"In recent years my work has stretched beyond my initial specialization in early American history with a primary focus on the American Revolution. Too often, from my point of view, academically trained historians keep digging into smaller and smaller topics. My decision had been to go the other way, to reach into new fields, including U.S. military history and the social history of alcohol and drug use as well as the ongoing historical conflict over smoking in America. Further, some of my future work will have much more of a biographical orientation, featuring ordinary as well as extraordinary lives. If this is fleeing from overspecialization, so let it be. After all, virtually no one, except for a few specialists, reads academic history anymore. As an old beer commercial once stated, ‘we only go around once,’ so why not take some chances along the way? The product, in the end, might even find a wide readership and have some influence, however slight, in the search to find meaning in life."



American Historical Review, December, 1984, review of Drinking in America: A History, 1620-1980.

American Scholar, autumn, 2006, Adam Goodheart, review of Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, p.135.

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, March, 1984, review of Drinking in America.

Booklist, August, 1997, review of Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered, p. 1874.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006, review of Forgotten Allies, p. 820.

Library Journal, July, 1997, Charles K. Piehl, review of Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero, p. 103.

Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1982, Ben Irwin, review of Drinking in America, p. 17.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 10, 1997, Fred Anderson, review of Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero.

New York Times, January 8, 1983, Anatole Broyard, review of Drinking in America, p. 13.

New York Times Book Review, January 9, 1983, Ray Walters, review of Drinking in America, p.14; January 18, 1998, Allen D. Boyer, review of Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero.

About this article

Martin, James Kirby 1943-

Updated About content Print Article