In Memoriam: David Wingeate Pike


David Wingeate Pike

Distinguished Professor of Contemporary History and Politics David Wingeate Pike died on June 20, 2020, in his ninetieth year, after a long battle against a lung infection and its complications. He had been hospitalized for almost two months, all the while keeping the inevitable at bay. His father, a World War I veteran, had lived well into his mid-nineties and David too was a powerhouse of determination, unstoppable until the end came finally last weekend.

In David Pike, AUP has lost its premier historian, perhaps its greatest scholar. His seniority was less a matter of longevity than of solid credentials and track record. As the author of some thirty volumes, on

World War II and other topics, David’s erudition was cited with admiration in the first lines of a review by Sir Raymond Carr in the TLS as a model of “obsessive scholarship.” David liked to recount how when some German speakers would ask him why he was “obsessed with World War II,” he would in turn question them: “Why aren’t you?” As David observed, it is not by chance that his many books, written in Spanish (VAE VICTIS: Los republicanos españoles, 1969) French (Les Français et la Guerre d’Espagne, 1975) or English (for the vast majority), should have been translated into various other languages but rarely into German. 

David’s interests far transcended that one principal specialization. His first degree was in Comparative Literature.  He studied at McGill, where he took a class on Shakespeare alongside future AUP Professor of English Michael Beausang. David could be counted on to comment on and sometimes perform the differences among each of Lear’s five “nevers.” But David (born 1930) had grown up with the war swirling around him. In recent years he renewed contact with public school classmates in recalling a campus building from which they had just exited when it took a direct hit from a German bombing run during the Blitz. David was a Latin Americanist at Stanford, where he took a doctorate and taught at the Institute of Hispanic-American and Luso-Brazilian Studies alongside luminaries like Ronald Hilton. But his other doctorate, from the University of Toulouse, brought the war home to him again in following the narrative of Spanish Republicans in exile. In a series of books, he described their odyssey from the fall of Spain to France to Mauthausen to Stalin’s camps. It is to be hoped that his full-length feature film on Mauthausen may yet be brought to the screen after several delays. 

In 1968, David was lecturing aboard a cruise around Europe, an activity this dedicated, dynamic teacher would resume after retirement. In a taxi ride across Paris he was interviewed by AUP Founding President Lloyd Delamater, who hired David on the spot. Dean Carol Maddison charged him with building the History program and the Division of Social Sciences, a mission he faithfully accomplished over the years. David remained a pillar of the History and Politics programs and an undaunted supporter of the Humanities, in his last years championing the return of music in the form of a concert series in the tradition of campus musician-musicologists Edmund Pendleton, Caroline Flament, and Randall Blatt. David’s Western Civilization sequence was a popular choice for students then, offered in multiple sections that generally filled. Dean Baskin wanted to make Civ a required course, had AUP’s limited budget permitted. David never relented in his support of the curriculum and of his junior colleagues. When, in the 1980s, European Cultural Studies needed a course in medieval history and none of our other faculty volunteered, David stepped forward. He promoted scholarship among faculty and students in launching in 1973 the only publication series this university has boasted to date: in ACPP (American College in Paris Publications) he established a model for publishing the scholarship of the community. There and elsewhere over the years David published a variety of articles and books in collaboration with his former students, most recently in 2016 Les îles anglo-normandes sous l’Occupation allemande with alumna Anne Farache. David’s obsession with the historical record did not abandon him in retirement. Au contraire! He defined retirement as “a perpetual sabbatical” and he put his time to good use, accelerating his productivity on leaving the classroom after thirty-three years of teaching at ACP/AUP. On retirement in 2001, he announced that he was “full of energy and ambition” (AUP News, Jan-Feb 2001) and had eight more books in him. After those were completed there came others. One of his publications in 2017 was an eighty-page contribution to a jubilee volume honoring another historian of World War II. It is a pity that no such volume honors David. In recent years, David saluted the other giants of ACP/AUP’s history as one by one they shuffled off this mortal coil: Clelia Hutt, founder of the French Department and the only survivor of the original ACP faculty when David arrived in 1968; Carol Maddison, the founding dean of ACP, who, when she took the married name of Carol Kidwell, was the subject of a double interview by David on the dean transition for The Planet, ACP’s student newspaper; her successor as Dean and VPAA, Bill Baskin, who took over the shepherding of ACP as it developed academically toward becoming AUP; Marc Pelen, charged by Dean Maddison / Kidwell with building an English program that would grow under his leadership into the Comp Lit degree program in which he taught every period from antiquity to contemporary. David was not only our senior historian. He was the official University Historian and in that role he published episodes from the university’s history on several occasions, most recently in the AUP Magazine. 

To conclude on a personal note, I never ran into David on campus or off without learning from him. He was a mentor, a colleague, a friend. His curiosity was universal, his enthusiasm inspiring, his diction precise. Never one to waste his time or anyone else’s, David always had several projects on the fire. His concern was not what needed to be done, but how best to spend the next five minutes doing a part of it. After moving out of his office space at AUP, he spent his weekdays camping out in his Montmartre office and his weekends at home with family. But David retained a rich sense of humor despite the intensity of his personal agenda. When one day, returning from a conference, he found papers from his basement archives had mistakenly been put out in the street and were blowing in the wind, he mused, “Thank God it was only the French Resistance files: it could have been the more important Collaboration files.” David had known many key players in contemporary history and had notes on his interviews with them, like meeting with Artur London, who came in “looking like a pretzel” as a result of his torture under Stalin. Through David’s auspices, world figures Simon Wiesenthal, Martin Gray, and others accepted honorary doctorates from our modest little university. In AUP’s almost sixty years, David’s fifty years of dedicated service to AUP are unmatched. When David had retired but was still the first to arrive and the last to leave the Grenelle building, he was a valuable resource person to whom faculty and students would turn. One day a student came to see her instructor about Jorge Semprun’s work, under study in an EN 2020 class that semester. Since the section teacher had not yet arrived for her office hours, the eager student was directed upstairs to talk about Semprun with David, who had been writing about Semprun since 1969 and knew him and his wife personally as well. When the instructor returned, thinking herself the Semprun expert for having written a dissertation chapter on his single most important work, she had been upstaged by David, one flight up, who gracefully sent the enlightened student back down to meet with her teacher. As on most matters, David had a head start of several decades on all of us. David’s total recall was bottomless and his anecdotes memorable. He recounted how a much decorated Companion of the Resistance just a few years earlier in the war had said to Pétain, “Give me an army and I will invade England.” How General Keitel, when told who would be present at the Armistice signing, muttered under his breath, “Auch die Franzosen!” How a bemused German student asked David what happened when Hitler invaded England, and David coolly replied that they went underground or fled to the U.S. Though I worked side by side with David for over forty years, I am jealous of the generations of students who enjoyed him in the classroom twice a week. Now only his books remain. How appropriate that David should have been with us still for the eightieth anniversary of the June 20th speech by l’homme du 18 juin, General de Gaulle. David, may you rest in peace and may your memory be a blessing. Newsweek once titled a special issue on World War II the “never-ending war.” For David at least, at long last, the war is finally over.

Written by Roy Rosenstein
Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature

Those who wish to make a gift in Professor Pike's memory may make it to The American University of Paris. Proceeds will be used to fund a scholarship in his honor. Please click here to learn how to make your gift.