Bruce Mazlish

Professor of History, Emeritus
B.A. Columbia College, 1944
M.A. Columbia University, 1947
Ph.D. Columbia University, 1955

Bruce Mazlish received his BA from Columbia College (1944), and an MA (1947) and Ph.D from Columbia University (1955). His doctorate was in Modern European History, and he worked mainly under Professors Shepherd Clough and Jacques Barzun. Mazlish came to MIT in 1955, where, aside from some years abroad, he has remained until 2003, when he assumed emeritus status. Among the course he has taught, mention should be made of “Marx, Darwin and Freud,” “Modernity, Post-modernity and Capitalism,” and “The New Global History.” In the course of his career he has received a number of significant honors. In 1967 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Earlier he had been a recipient of an SSRC Faculty Fellowship and made a Visiting Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (1972-73. In 1986-87 he was awarded the Toynbee Prize, an international award in social science (the next awardee was George Kennan, followed among others by Ralf Dahrendorf, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and more recently Albert Hirschman).

Mazlish has also served on the boards of various journals. In addition to being a founding editor of History and Theory, helping to edit it for ten years, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, helping to secure its financial and institutional footing, and has served on its Board of Advisors ever since. He has had the usual array of invited lectures, noteworthy being the Remsen Bird Honorary Lecture at Occidental College, the Presidential Lecture at Brown University, and innumerable others in this country and abroad (for example, in Argentina, India, Great Britain, and Russia).

Major articles and reviews by Mazlish have appeared in such journals as the AHA, Daedalus, J. of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, History of European Ideas, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Nation, Encounter, J. of Contemporary History, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, New York Times Book Review, and many others.

The Western Intellectual Tradition (Harper Bros, 1960), his first book, written in collaboration with J. Bronowski, had the aim of bridging the two cultures (the book was enthusiastically reviewed by C.P. Snow, as well as by J. Plumb), and to do so by presenting an integrated history, fusing the insights of the humanities and the sciences. It has been translated into Italian and Spanish, as well as enjoying a British edition, and was made a Book Find Club Selection.

Mazlish's next book was The Riddle of History: The Great Speculators from Vico to Freud (Harper & Row, 1966). Here, pursuing his historiographic interests, furthered by his work on History & Theory, he sought to look at philosophy of history both in terms of analytic and speculative attempts, and to raise the question as to what effect the great thinkers in this regard had on ordinary historical pursuits and on efforts to construct the social sciences.

James and John Stuart Mill (Basic Books, 1975, 484 pp.) also appeared in a paperback edition (Transactions Press, 1988). The Mill book was one—though substantively the most important--of a number of works seeking to explore the new sub-field of psychohistory. In In Search of Nixon: A Psychohistorical Study (Basic Books, 1972; Penguin ed. 1973, followed by Japanese and Dutch translation), Mazlish attempted to see what could be done by relying simply on published existing records. In Kissinger. The European Mind in American Policy (Basic Books, 1976; followed by a French translation), he attempted to push his methodological inquiry by employing a much wider array of materials, including interviews and other oral history accounts.

In both the Nixon and Kissinger books, Mazlish's overriding interest was in exploring how psychology, and specifically psychoanalytic theory, could or could not be helpful in writing history. With The Revolutionary Ascetic (Basic Books, 1976, paperback,1977), he sought to bring together his interest in revolutionary studies and the uses of psychology. Combining theories from both Freud and Max Weber, Mazlish inquired into the functions served by asceticism in regard to revolutionary leaders. He had been pursuing an interest in revolutions since his graduate school days, eventuating in the publication of various articles (for example, “The French Revolution in Comparative Perspective” (PSQ, 1970); and “American Revolutionary Leadership: The Psychological Dimension”, delivered at Library of Congress Symposium and published in Leadership in the American Revolution (1974), and the co-editing of a reader: Revolution (Macmillan, 1971). Lastly, many of his essays in psychohistory were collected in The Leader, the Led, and the Psyche (Wesleyan U. Press, 1990), where he pushed on from individual psychology to collective psychology in historical studies.

His other books have all shared the fate of finding an enthusiastic readership more outside than inside his own discipline. This can be said, for example, of the work, edited by Mazlish, The Railroad and the Space Program: An Exploration in Historical Analogy (MIT, 1965), whose 52 page introduction by him has become a classic. (The operative part of the title is, of course, historical analogy, which he explores in depth.) In A New Science: The Breakdown of Connections and the Birth of Sociology (Oxford, 1989, paper Penn State U. Press,1993), he again sought to combine the perspective of the humanities and of social science. Welcomed by a number of distinguished sociologists as an original contribution, it is almost unknown to most historians. The same can be said in a different context for The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines (Yale, 1993; paper 1995, and translated into Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, and Korean; also co-winner of the Kayden National Book Award). Here, Mazlish brings an historical perspective to the troubled relations—hopes and fears—between humans and their mechanical creations. Hailed by many in the fields of history of science and technology and AI, it is less known to other historians..

In The Uncertain Sciences (Yale, 1998; paper Transaction Press,2007), Mazlish undertakes to explore questions about what kind of knowledge the human sciences, including history, can claim to offer: is such knowledge “scientific” and what do we mean by “scientific” in this context? The range required to answer this “big” question is only possible because all of Mazlish's other books have been in one sense or another preparatory studies for this work.

Starting in the late 1980s, Mazlish began to explore present-day globalization from an historical and interdisciplinary perspective. Out of this endeavor has come, among other things, The New Global History initiative. This initiative has mounted, for example, a number of international conferences. The first was held in Bellagio , Italy , 1991 with one result being a volume Conceptualizing Global History, ed. by Bruce Mazlish & Ralph Buultjens; the Introduction was written by the lead editor. Published by Westview Press in 1993, the volume serves as the first in a series, subsequently published by The New Global History Press (with many of the following volumes co-ed. by Mazlish). For details on the first and subsequent conferences and volumes see the web site

Others of his writings on globalization are The Global History Reader (Routledge, 2005), ed. by Mazlish and Akira Iriye (this book resulted from a course co-taught at Harvard by the two editors), and The New Global History (Routledge, 2006). Related to these works is Civilization and Its Contents (Stanford, 2004) which has been translated into Chinese and Arabic, as well as writings on world history, such as the chapter “Terms” in the Palgrave Advances in World Histories, ed. Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Palgrave 2005). His more recent publications include The Idea of Humanity in a Global Era (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); "The Joy of War and the Future of Humanity" in New Global Studies (2010); "American Exceptionalism,” a post in Historically Speaking, January 27, 2011; “Ruptures in History,” Historically Speaking (June 2011); “Social Bonding, Globalization, and Humanity,” New Global Studies (electronic journal), Ms. 1148, 2011. Abstract + 1-8; "From the Sentiment of Humanity to the Concept of Humanity,"  in Historically Speaking (June 2012); and “Philosophy of History, Kissinger, and the Future,” Rivista di Politica (April 2012). His most recent book, Reflections on the Modern and the Global (Transaction Publishers, 2013), is also available as a Google eBook.

In addition to his writing and teaching, Mazlish has served on the Board of Trustees of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, 1992-2007 (serving as President from 1997-2006), on the Scholars Council for the Kluge Prize of the Library of Congress, 2000-2003, and on the governing board of the Rockefeller Archives Center, 1999-2005.