John A. DeNovo, age 83, died in Madison, Wisconsin, on January 26, 2000. A specialist on U.S. policies in the Middle East, he taught at both Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was one of the founding members of SHAFR.
John DeNovo was born on November 5, 1916 in Galva, Illinois, the son of Italian immigrant August DeNovo and Paula DeNovo. He received his B.A. cum laude from Knox College in 1938 and his M.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1940. During World War II he served as a naval officer in the South Pacific. After the war he returned to his graduate studies under the G.I. Bill, this time at Yale University where he was a student of Samuel Flagg Bemis. In 1948 he completed his doctorate under Bemis at Yale, married his Knox College classmate Jeanne Humphreys, and began teaching at Penn State. He remained at Penn State until 1964, rising from instructor to full professor. During these years he also studied at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (1956-57), and was a visiting professor at George Washington University (summer, 1949), the University of Wisconsin (summer, 1961), and Cornell University (1963-64). In 1964 he became a member of the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught until his retirement in 1981.
DeNovo was one of the first U.S. diplomatic historians to specialize in the Middle East. He is best known for his 1963 book, American Interests and Policies in the Middle East, 1900- 1939, which won the biennial national book award of Phi Alpha Theta. He also published a two volume reader in American history (1969) and numerous scholarly articles, mostly but far from exclusively on U.S. Middle East policies, that appeared in such noted journals as the American Historical Review, the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, and its successor, The Journal of American History.
In the 1960s DeNovo helped to create SHAFR and was quite active in its early years. In 1969 he was elected to its Council and in 1979 he was a vice presidential nominee. In 1976 77 he was a visiting scholar in the Historian's Office of the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (now the Department of Energy). Throughout these years he was also preparing a second volume on U.S. Middle East relations from 1939 1950, but serious heart illness forced him to stop working on the project and to retire in 1981. He gave his notes and research materials to Georgetown University, where they remain available to other scholars.
At both Penn State and Wisconsin, DeNovo was known as an outstanding and caring mentor. His graduate students came first in his professional life, and all who worked with him knew it. His rigorous seminars emphasized improvement of their critical faculties and writing styles without attempting to foist his thoughts and conclusions onto them. He was simultaneously a demanding and exceptionally supportive doctoral adviser and mentor, helping his students with everything from topic choice through archival selection, financial support and dissertation drafting, to completion and eventual employment. He supervised thirty four M.A.s and fifteen Ph.Ds at Penn State and Wisconsin, many of whom went on to successful careers as government historians as well as university professors and administrators. He followed their careers with great interest, took exceptional pleasure in their accomplishments, and remained in regular contact with them, even after a crippling 1992 stroke confined him to a wheelchair and nursing home in Madison.
John DeNovo was also an accomplished musician, a wry humorist, and a devoted husband to his wife Jeanne and father to his two children, Anne and Jay. He will be sorely missed by his family, his colleagues, and those of us who were lucky enough to be his students and friends.
Mark A. Stoler, University of Vermont