NIU remembers prolific historian David Kyvig

David Kyvig
David Kyvig

NIU Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus David Edward Kyvig, a noted Constitutional historian and specialist on recent America, whose 1996 book “Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1995” was awarded the Bancroft Prize and the Henry Adams Prize, died on Monday, June 22, at George Washington University Hospital after a lifelong battle with diabetes. He was 71.

Kyvig was known for his meticulous scholarship. His “Explicit and Authentic Acts” is a modern classic. Scholarly acclaim was almost universal for the book that instructed us in the ways in which Americans make fundamental changes in the document that is the basis of our self-governance.

In his 2008 book, “The Age of Impeachment, American Constitutional Culture since 1960,”Kyvig offered a rich, comprehensive study of how and why this once little-used provision was reborn as a popular instrument of political assault, heralding the toxic, highly partisan politics of the present.

In addition to political history, Kyvig was committed to the history of ordinary Americans and their places.

With his dear friend and long-time collaborator Myron “Mike” Marty, Kyvig co-authored “Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You (1982), which was published by the American Association of State and Local History and recipient of the 1983 Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums Individual Achievement Award. The volume became a virtual handbook for public historians.

Turning from places to popular culture, Kyvig wrote “Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain” (2002), later published in an acclaimed second edition, “Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression.

Kyvig was born March 8, 1944, in Ames, Iowa. He and his brother John C. Kyvig (1949-1977) were raised in Muskegon, Mich., by their parents, Wilma C. (Jessen) and Edward H. Kyvig.

Book cover of “Explicit and Authentic Acts: Amending the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1995”Kyvig discovered his love for history at Kalamazoo College, where he earned a B.A. cum laude in 1966. In 1971, he completed a Ph.D. in American History from Northwestern University, which became the basis for his first book, “Repealing National Prohibition” (1979). He served at the National Archives as an archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries from 1970 to 1971.

Joining the faculty of the University of Akron in 1971, Kyvig achieved emeritus status there in 1999 before moving to Northern Illinois University. He taught for 11 more years at NIU and retired a second time, as he used to say, in 2010.

Among his many distinctions, Kyvig was a Fulbright Professor of American Civilization at the University of Tromsø, Norway (1987-1988); a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2004-2005); and a recipient of fellowships from the Newberry Library (1979), American Council of Learned Societies (1980-1981, 2004-2005), and National Endowment for the Humanities (2005-2006).

Kyvig happily retired to Capitol Hill in 2010, where he pursued his own scholarship from his beloved desk at the Library of Congress. At the time of his death, he had no fewer than four academic projects in the works, among them a cutting-edge volume on political representation tentatively titled, “Sizing Up Congress: James Madison’s Unfulfilled Legacy.”

David Kyivg is survived by his beloved wife, NIU Distinguished Research Professor Emerita Christine Worobec; his daughters, Jennifer Kyvig Kasper and Elizabeth Kyvig; grandchildren, Noah and Grace Kasper; son-in-law, Eric Kasper; former wife, Barbara Burness Kyvig; and countless friends and professional colleagues.

Kyvig was a principled optimist who relished healthy debate. He was the consummate storyteller who put historical facts in contemporary context – whether in a classroom, over a long lunch with friends, or in passing conversation with merchants at D.C.’s Eastern Market. And, throughout his life, he was an avid fan of baseball, a passion that he shared with his grandson. Most recently, he cheered for the Washington Nationals from his regular seat on the third base line.

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