Marcus Cunliffe

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Marcus Falkner Cunliffe (1922–1990) was a British scholar who specialized in American Studies, especially military and cultural history. Cunliffe stressed the powerful influence of Americans' cultural beliefs about their own natural military capacity, reinforced by a latent dislike of military professionals, on the nature and performance of the militia/volunteers. Cunliffe pointed the way to the "new military history" in his Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775–1865 (1969). Cunliffe explored American "exceptionalism" and the national desire it promotes to look inward rather than outward. Cunliffe forcefully argues that the United States was less exceptional than many American writers believe. He always emphasizes the interconnections between Western cultures. Living in Washington in the 1980s, he perhaps reacted against the chauvinism of the Ronald Reagan years; but his writing invariably stressed the European (and especially British) roots of American military ideas.



Cunliffe was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, Sandhurst, and Yale,[1] where he was Harkness Fellow.[1][dead link] He later served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Tank Regiment during the Second World War.


Cunliffe lectured at the University of Manchester and the University of Sussex, where he was Professor of American Studies; he was also a visiting professor at Harvard.[1]

He wrote many books on American history, including The Nation Takes Shape, 1789-1837 (1960), a book in the "Chicago History of American Civilization" series planned and edited by Daniel J. Boorstin, that traces the growth of the United States from the launching of government under the Constitution in 1789 through the end of the presidency of Andrew Jackson in 1837; George Washington: Man and Monument (1958), a terse, incisive, and witty examination of the life of George Washington and his historical significance which is still generally regarded as the best short book ever written on Washington; an important series of lectures, Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery (1979), which compared the conditions of slavery in the American south (as chattel slavery) and industrial labor in the North (as wage slavery), and the historical political dynamics of this comparison; a general history of the American presidency in various editions; and such notable contributions to American military history as Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775-1865 (1969).

A posthumously-published collection of essays, In Search of America: Trans-Atlantic Essays, 1956-1990, was published by Greenwood Press in 1991.

Cunliffe's papers were donated to the George Washington University in 1990. The collection includes diaries, correspondence, research notes, articles, chapters from books, syllabi, exam questions, news clippings, correspondence, original military ballads, illustrations, and photographs that range in date from 1936-1990 (bulk 1960-1990) documenting Cunliffe’s career as a scholar of American history. It is cared for by GWU's Special Collections Research Center, located in the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library.[2]

Personal life[edit]

In 1949, he met and married American sculptor Mitzi Solomon. Together, they had a son and two daughters (one of whom is Shay Cunliffe, Costume Designers Guild Award winner). They divorced in 1971.


  • The American Presidency
  • The Literature of the United States (1954)
  • Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks, eds. Pastmasters: Some Essays on American Historians (1969)
  • Marcus Cunliffe. Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775–1865 (1969).
  • George Washington: Man and Monument (1958)


  1. ^ a b Author biography in The Literature of the United States (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1970 [3rd edition])
  2. ^ Guide to the Marcus Cunliffe Papers, 1960-1990, Special Collections Research Center, Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, The George Washington University

Further reading[edit]