Arthur Link

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Arthur S. Link (1922-1998) was a leading American historian and editor, specializing in the era of Woodrow Wilson. Born in rural North Carolina to a German Lutheran family, he graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he received a B.A. in 1941 and a Ph.D. in 1945. Link taught at Princeton University (1945-1949 and 1960–92), and Northwestern University (1949–60). He directed numerous PhD dissertations including those of William Harbaugh (who worked on Theodore Roosevelt); Gerald Grob (who studied mental health); and George McGovern (who wrote labor history and whom Link supported when he was the 1972 Democratic candidate for President.)

He was the leading specialist on Woodrow Wilson, with a five volume biography of Wilson (to the start of the First World War); he edited all 68 volumes of Wilson's papers. Although he wrote numerous textbooks he concentrated his scholarship on the politics and diplomacy of the decade 1910-1920. As a historian of the Progressive Era Link made three major contributions. First was to stress the importance of progressivism in the South (a theme first developed by C. Vann Woodward) and the importance of the South to progressivism nationally. By seeing Wilson as a southerner with a Southern base, he broadened the scope of the politics of progressivism. Secondly he located the heart of progressivism in Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism platform of 1912, and not in Wilson's New Freedom. The point was that Wilson was a conservative until 1913 when he suddenly accepted the core values of Roosevelt's proposals to use the federal government to reform the economy. Third Link argues progressivism collapsed after World War I because of internecine conflicts among reformers and uncertainties about how to pursue their agendas further. They ran out of ideas and left the field to Warren G. Harding. Nevertheless, he also argued that progressivism was stronger in the 1920s than was generally acknowledged and that the underground currents formed the heart of the New Deal in the 1930s.[1]

As Link delved into the manuscripts he changed his mind, but he usually did not try to rewrite his books. The one exception was Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (1979) (a revision of Wilson the Diplomatist). He softened his criticism of Wilson's responses to the Mexican revolution and German submarine warfare and gave the president higher marks as a war leader and articulator of war aims in the Fourteen Points. Link had previously stated that Wilson would have taken the same unbending stand against ratification of the Versailles Treaty with Henry Cabot Lodge's reservations if he had enjoyed perfect health. In the revision he stressed Wilson's deteriorating cardiovascular condition and massive stroke. The medical deterioration made it hard for Wilson to compromise with Lodge and explains in part his earlier actions at the peace conference and his dealings with the Senate over the treaty. Link incorporated his new ideas in elaborate notes in his edition of the Papers. At one point Link was attacked by some scholars for his medical interpretation of Wilson; Link expected more support from Princeton and the funding agencies than they provided. The long relationship ended on a sour note as Princeton marginalized his Wilson Papers project.[2]

Link's relations with his colleagues at Princeton were sometimes strained, especially with Eric Goldman a popular lecturer who did little research.[3] Princeton did not eagerly invite his return in 1960—the Wilson Foundation insisted on it as a condition for financing the Papers. Link was distant from the administration and faculty but enjoyed working with undergraduates—his star pupil was Bill Bradley who became a Senator and presidential aspirant.

He served as president of both major history societies, the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. He wrote 30 books including history textbooks. Link was recipient of numerous awards including He is the recipient of numerous awards, including 10 honorary degrees; and two Bancroft Prizes. An active Presbyterian, he served as vice president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in America. He married Margaret Douglas Link in 1946; they had four children. Link was gregarious and a lively conversationalist, always with a cigarette and a drink in hand. He died of lung cancer at age 77.[4]

Writings and editions by Link

  • Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (1954), still the standard political and diplomatic overview
  • American Epoch (1st ed. 1955), college textbook in numerous editions
  • Wilson the Diplomatist: A look at his major foreign policies, (1957)
  • "What Happened to the Progressive Movement in the 1920's?" The American Historical Review, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Jul., 1959), pp. 833–851 online in JSTOR
  • Wilson a biography in 5 volumes: Princeton University Press: Volume I: "The Road to the White House, 570 pages (1947); Volume II: "The New Freedom", 504 pages (1956); Volume III: "The Struggle for Neutrality", 733 pages (1960); Volume V: "Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916", 386 pages (1964); Volume V: "Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace, 1916-1917", 464 pages (1965); no more published
  • Our American Republic. 1963. textbook.
  • The higher realism of Woodrow Wilson, and other essays (1971)
  • Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (1979)
  • editor, Woodrow Wilson and a revolutionary world, 1913-1921 (1982)
  • Progressivism, with Richard L. McCormick (1983)
  • "The American Historical Association, 1884–1984: Retrospect and Prospect," The American Historical Review, Vol. 90, No. 1, (Feb., 1985), pp. 1–17. online version of presidential address to AHA
  • editor, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson Princeton University Press, 68 volumes 1966-1994
    • v. 1. 1856-1880—v. 2. 1881-1884—v. 3. 1884-1885—v. 4. 1885—v. 5. 1885-1888—v. 6. 1888-1890—v. 7. 1890-1892—v. 8. 1892-1894—v. 9. 1894-1896—v. 10. 1896-1898—v. 11. 1898-1900—v. 12. 1900-1902—v. 13. Contents and index, vols. 1 to 12, 1856-1902—v. 14. 1902-1903—v. 15. 1903-1905—v. 16. 1905-1907—v. 17. 1907-1908—v. 18. 1908-1909—v. 19. 1909-1910—v. 20-21. 1910—v. 22. 1910-1911—v. 23. 1911-1912—v. 24-25. 1912—v. 26. Contents and index, vols. 14-25, 1902-1912—v. 27-28. 1913—v. 29. 1913-1914—v. 30-31. 1914—v. 32-34. 1915—v. 35. 1915-1916—v. 36-38. 1916—v. 40. 1916-1917—v. 41-44. 1917—v. 45. 1917-1918—v. 46-48. 1918—v. 50. The complete press conferences, 1913-1919—v. 51. 1918—v. 52. Index, 1916-1918—v. 53. 1918-1919—v. 54-63. 1919—v. 64. 1919-1920—v. 65-66. 1920—v. 67. 1920-1922—v. 68. 1922-1924.


  • John Milton Cooper, Jr., "Arthur S. Link", in Robert Allen Rutland, ed. Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000, U of Missouri Press (2000), pp 111–125. online edition
  • John Milton Cooper, Jr. and Charles E. Neu, eds. The Wilson Era: Essays in Honor of Arthur S. Link, 1991.


  1. Cooper 2000; Link 1959
  2. Cooper (2000) p 118
  3. Cooper (2000) p 120
  4. Cooper (2000) p 121