Wiebe, Robert H.
Robert Huddleston Wiebe, renowned historian and professor at Northwestern University, was born in Amarillo, Texas on April 22, 1930 to chemist Richard Wiebe—a Mennonite German immigrant—and his wife, Jean Huddleston, a librarian and former doctoral candidate in Physics. After graduating Magna cum Laude from Carleton College in 1951, Robert Wiebe pursued graduate studies in American history at the University of Rochester until 1954, when the U.S. Army drafted him for service in Munich, Germany. After two years of active duty, Wiebe—now on inactive reserve—completed his final year of doctoral work at Rochester and received his Ph.D. in 1957.
He taught history courses at Michigan State University (1957-1958) and Columbia University (1958-1960) before Northwestern engaged him as an assistant professor of history in 1960. Married first to Allene Davis and later to Penny Whiteside, Wiebe had three sons, Douglas (1957), Eric (1960), and Patrick (1964).
Although Wiebe's first book, Businessmen and Reform, appeared in 1962, it was The Search for Order 1877-1920 (1967) that made his reputation as a leading scholar of the American Progressive Era. Challenging Richard Hofstadter's seminal Age of Reform, The Search for Order synthesized Progressive-Era history as a transition, spearheaded by the new middle class, from community to bureaucratic organizations and values. Wiebe's later works include The Segmented Society: An Introduction to the Meaning of America (1975); The Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the Constitution to the Eve of Disunion (1984); and Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy (1995). Princeton University Press has scheduled one additional book, Who We Are: A History of Popular Nationalism, for posthumous publication in 2002. In addition, Wiebe prepared numerous articles and conference presentations on subjects of Progressivism, nationalism, and American democracy—his major areas of research.
Apart from “visiting” appointments at Harvard University (1972-1973), Kyoto University (1980), and University of Cambridge (1984-1985), Wiebe actively served Northwestern's students and history department as assistant professor (1960-1963); associate professor (1963-1965); professor (1965-1997); and professor emeritus (1997-2000). In the course of his professional career he served on faculty search committees, the University's General Faculty Committee, the Promotion and Tenure Committee, and the History Department's Ver Steeg Committee; sponsored many visiting scholars from Japan; founded the University's American Culture Program; and taught graduate and undergraduate courses. Personally committed to social justice causes, Wiebe opposed the Vietnam War, supported the civil rights movement, and was a leader in the activist group Gray Panthers during the 1990s. He constantly mentored his department's Ph.D. candidates, continuing to supervise doctoral dissertations until his death on December 10, 2000. Memorial services were held at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Evanston.