Department of History

David Lewis

David LewisDavid Lewis, a valued and dear member of the History Department, passed away in 2007. He was born on June 24, 1931, in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He took his BA and MA degrees from the Pennsylvania State University, and he completed his PhD at Cornell University in 1961. He was never slow to point out the glories, past and present, of the Keystone State.

Dr. Lewis came to Auburn in 1971 as the Hudson Professor of History & Engineering. He founded Auburn's History of Technology program and pioneered the teaching of Technology & Civilization in the core curriculum. He also helped found what became the Human Odyssey program, and he was instrumental in the creation of an Honors program that has grown into an Honors College. It is to Dr. Lewis, more than any other single person, that the department owes its excellence today in the History of Technology. He was since 1994 a Distinguished University Professor. Over several decades, David played a critical role in hiring department heads and faculty who have led History and built its reputation. As Athletic Director Emeritus David Housel wrote, "David was a good man, and I have always thought that in many ways he revolutionized the teaching of history at Auburn."

Dr. Lewis authored, coauthored, or edited thirteen books and published dozens of smaller pieces, as well as giving scores of talks around the globe. Among his best-known books were acclaimed studies of New York prisons in the early nineteenth century, of Delta Airlines, of Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, and of aviator Eddie Rickenbacker. His honors and awards are too numerous to mention in full. He was the Charles A. Lindbergh Professor of Aerospace History at the National Air and Space Museum, and he won the Leonardo da Vinci Medal from the Society for the History of Technology.

Saying that David was enthusiastic about his work is like saying that Mount Everest is high. He once said that he became involved in the History of Technology through "serendipity," because it did not exist as an organized field at the time he attended graduate school. Early in his career he associated with giants such as Alfred D. Chandler and Melvin Kranzberg, the former a famous historian of business and the latter the recognized founder of the field of the History of Technology. Whatever research or teaching David was doing at the moment was the most exciting project ever undertaken. His friends vividly recall papers that he delivered thirty or forty years ago; they describe him jumping up and down, gesticulating broadly, and generally acting like a man who had discovered the best stories ever and could not wait to tell them.

His friends and colleagues will miss many things about David, but probably his energy and devotion to history most of all. He remains an example to us all. Our thoughts are with his wife, Pat, and all of the family.

Last Updated: May 23, 2019