Stanley Payne biography:
Stanley G. Payne taught in five American universities, from 1968 to 2005 at the University of Wisconsin, where he was Hilldale-Jaume Vicens Vives Professor of History. He followed George L. Mosse as co-editor of the Journal of Contemporary History from 1999 to 2015. He has published numerous books on Spanish history, the most recent in English The Spanish Civil War (2012), Franco: A Personal and Political Biography (2014), with Jesús Palacios, and Alcalá Zamora and the Failure of the Spanish Republic, 1931-1936 (2017). His works on European History include A History of Fascism 1914-1945 (1995) and Civil War in Europe 1905-1949 (2011).
**To access the OHMS oral history page for Stanley Payne, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here. Stanley Payne also gave an oral history with Robert Lange in December 2006. To access that OHMS oral history page, click here.**
Tortorice: Okay. I’m here in Tucson, Arizona with Professor Stanley Payne, emeritus professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison. So, Stan, where were you born?
Payne: I was born in the North Texas town of Denton in September 1934. That’s just a few miles north of Dallas.
Tortorice: And what was your childhood like? Was it a frontier childhood? Perhaps you’re not that old. (laughs)
Payne: No. The Comanches were causing no trouble by that time. This was a childhood in what was then a small Texas town, though a county seat, coming out of the Depression. And so conditions were very modest. There was enough to eat. But of course luxuries did not exist in that kind of life. And in fact in Texas we did not even have an automobile. So it was a very modest childhood. And yet everything that was necessary was provided for. And in fact, we were able to live in our own house, though a rented house, for the last three years. My father was ruined by the Depression. But found work as a carpenter. Because he was always very good at working with his hands, though he’d never had that kind of employment ever before. So he kept food on the table. And we lived in Texas down to 1944, which was the time when we began the great migration to California.
Tortorice: Okay. So you actually didn’t have a car as such when you were a child. How did you get around?
Payne: Well, in a county seat with a population of twelve thousand, things were concentrated in the center of town. And you walked everywhere. And we never really had to walk very far. I don’t think I ever walked more than eight or ten blocks in one direction or the other, because things were so concentrated in this small town.
Tortorice: So when you father, when he did carpentry jobs, he basically worked for the neighbors. For people he probably knew.
Payne: No. He worked for the main construction firm in town.
Tortorice: I see.
Payne: Even though this was a small town, not a city. It had a certain amount of construction and remodeling work because there were two campuses of the Texas State system in Denton. And so this helped keep that construction firm going through the Depression, and he always had employment during those years. And then eventually they made him the assistant foreman of the planing mill, of the office and commercial, more on the office and commercial side. But there was a lot of work to do at the planing mill as well. And the last three years, he was not out on construction projects. Which in those days were quite strenuous, because they didn’t have all the labor-saving devices. And it’s a very humid kind of heat in northeast Texas in the summertime.
Tortorice: Well, construction work in any case is difficult. My grandfather was in construction work. And it is very hard on the body. But I’m really fascinated by the details of growing up in this small town, even though it’s a bit off our topic, so what. So did you have, well, I suppose your house was heated by coal? Or did you have—
Payne: Well, no. It was not heated by coal. I really don’t know how it was heated. The winters in north Texas are not particularly cold, but you do need some kind of heat. And I really don’t know how the heat was provided. We did not have a coal system. It didn’t seem to cause any particular complication. And it never came to my attention as a child.
Tortorice: Very interesting. So like in the kitchen, did you have a big stove? Like one of those big iron stoves that your mother would keep going? And maybe that heated the house. Or a fireplace.
Payne: No, no. There was no fireplace. It was artificial heat. I think the thing is to keep the house closed up. I don’t remember ever feeling cold in the north Texas winter, except occasionally when I was out walking to school or something like that. Now that, of course, given the relative imperviousness of healthy children to the elements, it didn’t seem to bother me.
Tortorice: Right. Right. So what was your mother like? Was she from Texas originally? Did she work in those days?
Payne: No, my parents were from Colorado. And my mother had had more formal education than anyone else in her family, but that was not saying very much. Because what that meant is that she had completed two years of nurse’s training at a sanitarium in the Chicago area when she was young. But lacking family support, she was not able to continue and she dropped out. And then a year or so later, married my father. She had even spent one summer, I think in 1932 before she dropped out, as a nursing assistant in the old Madison General Hospital.
Payne: And so she had been three months in Madison. And she shared a small apartment on the third floor of a three-story building with two other nurses. And of course the heat rose in a humid Madison summer. And she remembers the summer of 1932 in Madison as one of the hottest times she ever experienced in her entire life.
My father was the son of a Colorado lead miner who died of something like silicosis when he was young, only about forty-two years old. He had come from an Iowa farming family. And so my father and his two brothers were put to work when they were very young. My father, twelve, the older brother fourteen, the oldest, sixteen, to keep food on the table, to keep the family going. The two younger children were both girls, and they were allowed to continue to go to school. And so the two female siblings both received some degree of education. And one of them became a registered nurse. Went into medical missionary work in South America.
But my father had to work from the age of twelve years on, and developed his own business in Monte Vista 07:01 which is up in the hills just a little ways beyond Pueblo. The only car battery shop in the 1920s in that district. But this fell on evil times with the Depression. And at that point, he married my mother and set out for Texas, partly with the idea that things might be better down there. But in fact, they weren’t. And he found that he was really very fortunate to obtain employment as a carpenter. And it would be steady work, it would always provide a job. And as I mentioned before, it would always put food on the table. So we never really suffered any genuine hunger during the Depression, any serious want.
Tortorice: So, given your family background and I would say modest opportunities for education in that setting, anyway, how did you get from there to an interest in history and a career as a scholar? I mean, that will be what we’ll be discussing. But was there a family member, a teacher, someone in your circle that really inspired you to scholarship, to studying and applying yourself to education?
Payne: No, there was no one in my immediate circle. This was what I liked to do. And I was a big reader from the age of six or seven on. So this was kind of a self-generated vocation. But I didn’t have the chance to take any history courses until I was well on into high school. My interest was always oriented toward history, primarily in the sense of reading historical novels when I was very young. And I was the best student in the one high school history class which I was able to take when I was sixteen years of age as a senior in high school. And I remember that my instructor was also the principal of this little school. He said, “Well, if you have some vocation for this, maybe you’d like to go ahead with this.”
I said, “Yes, I definitely think I would. I want to be a history major as an undergraduate. I don’t know what kind of career that leads to,” I said. “Other than teaching. I never thought of myself as a teacher.”
And he said to me when I was sixteen, “Well, perhaps you would like to write history.”
That seemed to me a daunting task when I was only sixteen years of age. I said, “That might be a possibility, but it seems like a very ambitious one.” He was the first who suggested that when I was sixteen years of age. But.
Tortorice: It stuck with you. (laughs) Someone gave you your path.
Payne: That’s correct. That was quite clear from—well, “clear” is not the word for it. That was indicated from the age of sixteen. I didn’t know what was involved. One just simply went ahead putting one foot in front of the other. But that was my orientation clearly from the age of sixteen.
Tortorice: So at about the age of ten or twelve, your family left Texas and moved to California?
Payne: That’s right.
Tortorice: And that’s where you went to high school and, I imagine, your undergraduate education was there, also?
Payne: Right. For the next five years, in Sacramento. And then over in the Napa Valley where my mother moved after my parents were divorced. And my undergraduate years were spent in a Seventh Day Adventist College, which is now highly rated as a liberal arts college. But it was much more modest in those days, with only about nine hundred students. Pacific Union College on the eastern slopes of the Napa Valley. Really on a hilltop on the eastern side of the valley. Very small academic community. Good basic education. Nothing special. I used to supplement it with the college library by ordering books from the California State Library in Sacramento, which seemed to work pretty well.
My orientation toward Spanish affairs really began in Texas. Not because I was growing up in a very Hispanic part of Texas. This was not the case in those days in north Texas, there were very few Mexican people. But because the Texas Board of Education in 1943, beginning of my last year of public education in Texas, decided that since we were in the midst of World War Two, all Texas schoolchildren from the fifth grade on should have a few hours of instruction in a foreign language. They provided no resources for this. So the home room teacher simply had to do the best she could for two or three hours a week in some foreign language. And the language that most of the home room teachers selected was Spanish. (phone rings)
Tortorice: Excuse me. Sorry about that. I should answer this.
Tortorice: Okay. Sorry about the interruption, Stan. So we were discussing California, your college career there. So what was Napa like in those years? And what was the Seventh Day Adventist College like? Was your family Seventh Day Adventists?
Payne: My mother was.
Tortorice: Oh, she was.
Payne: And her entire family. So from about the sixth grade on, through the BA I was educated in Adventist schools. As far as quality of education was concerned, I would say that it was a good basic education. Obviously, it was not an elite education. You did not have some of the additional features that you might find in the best kind of elite education. But it was a good basic education, and not fundamentally deficient. Of course it also provided a certain amount of religious training. Although I found that by that time I was dropping out of the church and no longer being a part of it. But I was perfectly happy in the college. It was very pleasant, a very nice set of students. A very good atmosphere. Pleasant ambience. And so I did all four years. In fact, by doing summer school, it was not quite four years. But finished my BA there. Felt that I was perfectly well-prepared for graduate school elsewhere. I began moving up the academic ladder.
If there was anyone in my education who served as a kind of inspiration, it was my principal history professor at BUC, a man named Walter Utt (1921-1985), who suffered severely from hemophilia. Which also affected the functioning of his joints so that he was, to a large extent, crippled as well. And kind of like Franklin Roosevelt, or a little better than Roosevelt, got around with heavy knee braces. So he was someone who was definitely handicapped and had difficulty manipulating the various features of the mountain environment around PUC. But did it with great courage and was a very effective teacher. And in fact, one of the most popular in college. He also wrote a couple of volumes of history later on. And he and I became very well-acquainted. Good friends, you might say. And he was a source of inspiration for me. Certainly to a greater extent than anyone else with whom I came in contact as a history professor during my education. I always had good faculty support, I would say during my graduate education, one way the other. But Utt was the most important because of the personal relationship. And also because of the kind of inspiration that he provided.
Tortorice: So just to step back a bit. Was your family religious? It sounds like your mother had a religious—
Payne: Definitely. But not intensely. My father was not at all. The Napa Valley at that time was totally different. Not just somewhat different, but totally different from the Napa Valley of the 21st century. Because we’re talking about the period from 1950 to 1955 roughly, my five years in the valley.
Tortorice: Interesting. So that was small farms—
Payne: It was a totally rural environment. There were really only five producing vintners in the valley. Only five labels producing wine. Because in the 1950s, Americans did not drink wine. And there was no market for that. So this was a very rural, small town environment. And one had the sense as one went up the valley and the density of population declined more and more that beyond the hills of the northern end of the valley, the arctic tundra might begin. I mean, you really had a sense of, although one was less than a hundred miles from San Francisco, of being at the end of the world. Very remote. Totally different from the twenty-first century.
Tortorice: Do you have photos of that period, of that area? Did you take—
Payne: I’ve certainly not been a photo buff ever, at any time. And I have very, very few photos. Hardly any I would say.
Tortorice: I think that would be fascinating to look at the transition to what it is now, which is, it’s a fantasy land, more than anything else, for wealthy people.
Payne: Absolutely. It’s a fantasy land. A kind of resort area. Wealthy. Expensive. Sophisticated. The college itself has changed a good deal. It got much, much fancier. I was astounded to find that the food for the students is catered by a firm in San Francisco. This is quite different from the way it was in my time. They still tend to respect the dietary norms of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. But the whole ambiance really more or less is considerably different from my time. I wasn’t prepared for that. I went back, in fact, just three years ago in 2015 as scholar in residence for two weeks. So this was the best opportunity I’d ever had to be reacquainted with the college. And I was expecting a lot of change, and found even more than I had anticipated.
Tortorice: So that they have acknowledged your contribution to history and your connection with the college. That’s great. So how did you end up in New York at Columbia? Is that where you went after your undergrad? Or did you get a master’s?
Payne: Well, I didn’t make many applications for graduate school. And did not, I applied to Berkeley, which was the obvious choice for someone in northern California. Did not really get much of a fellowship at Berkeley, just an alternate TAship. But I did get a very good fellowship at Claremont University, then called the Claremont Graduate School east of Los Angeles in southern California. So I spent two years at Claremont, which was a very helpful experience for me. Because it served as a kind of transition from a very small college in a rural area of California en route to going to New York, to the big city. It was a crucial transition time. And I’m really very grateful for the two years that I spent on fellowship at Claremont in the mid-1950s.
And then for the PhD, I applied to three institutions: Chicago, Harvard and Columbia. Chicago provided by far the best fellowship. Columbia and Harvard did not provide such generous terms. But I selected Columbia over Harvard because I thought someone going to do work in the contemporary history of Spain would make better contacts in a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan environment for that kind of research in New York City than in the Boston/Cambridge area. This was a kind of a bet or a guess. And it turned out to be 101% correct. I had turned toward research on Spain at the beginning of graduate school.
Tortorice: At Claremont.
Payne: At Claremont. And of course there was no one either at Claremont or at Columbia who was himself in the field of Spanish history, which was not studied at that time in North America. But I did have professors who encouraged me to go ahead and do my own research in that field. And that was very important. Of course without that kind of support, I would not have been able to move forward. They provided that sort of encouragement, down to the end of a PhD degree. So things moved very fast after I left Claremont. Columbia had an accelerated doctorate program. With my master’s degree in hand, I only had to be a regular graduate student for one year. Was then able to get an SSRC fellowship. Off to Spain for doctoral research. And back for one year teaching in Columbia College, and finishing up. So it was a whirlwind Columbia program. One that I was prepared for because the two years at Claremont were a necessary transition stage. Partly because I obviously needed to grow up a certain amount before hitting New York City. By the time I got to New York, I was turning twenty-three.
Tortorice: So what year was that, Stan?
Payne: The Columbia years were 1957 to 1960.
Tortorice: So what was New York like in 1957? What was Columbia like? That must have been an experience, going from small town California to Columbia? And the big city.
Payne: Well, the Columbia Graduate School functioned as a graduate program somewhat the way they did at certain European universities, or at Oxford and Cambridge. That is, a lot depended on the individual work of the student. You did not have to do very many classes. And so it was a kind of experience, it was pretty well tailor-made for me because I had become pretty independent at that time, and was used to working on my own. And I prepared myself very soon for the PhD prelims, which was the system that they had there. Oral prelims, the two-hour oral examination, which is very, very important, which I did after only eight months at Columbia, and did very well. They even offered me a job teaching Latin American history the following year. But I couldn’t accept that because I needed to go off to Spain to do my doctoral research. And my thesis advisor at Columbia was Shepard Clough (1901-1990), who was a specialist in French and Italian history. Didn’t know anything about Spain, but he thought it was very important that other people study Spain. So he supported me all the way. And I do also owe a certain amount to Shepard Clough for the confidence that he showed in me in supporting my work all the way from the selection in the fellowship process in 1957 to completing the degree three years later.
Tortorice: So it sounds as if this was an intense engagement with your work, with scholarship. And an accelerated program that catapulted you off to Spain for the first time, where you did your initial research in Spain. So tell me about that, and about Spain in those years. What did your research entail at that time, and who did you meet over there? What was that experience like?
Payne: This was really an extraordinary undertaking in the sense that virtually no one was working with Spanish history at that point. And Spain in the 1950s was totally different from what it would be twenty or thirty years later. This was just before the period of the most accelerated economic development under the Franco regime. It was a time in the 1950s when the dictatorship was still very firmly in place. Very little opposition to it at that time. And so the old order obtained. The tenor of Spanish society was very Catholic, very conservative, very formal. I assumed initially this was the way the Spanish always had been. I did not understand that in fact the way things were in 1958 in Spain were as a result of the cultural and social and religious counter-revolution carried out by the Franco regime, which reestablished and fostered this kind of culture. And Spain really had not been like that at all during the early 1930s. It now was seemingly more traditional and more conservative than it had been twenty-five years earlier. Normally things don’t go that way.
So this was a very, very new kind of society, a very special kind of formal and highly Catholic and conservative society. But one that was influenced to some extent by the concern to connect more broadly with the outer world. And not merely illiberal. That is, I encountered a great deal of cooperation and willingness in this society. It was not really as ultra-conservative as it seemed. It was not as rigid as it seemed. There were all kinds of opportunities there. And I was very fortunate, of course, in my dissertation research, because I was working on the early history of the Falange, the fascist state party. But I didn’t understand clearly how I would be able to develop primary research in Spain. There was no party archive. There was no primary archive that I could go to. There were all kinds of published materials. But what I found that I was able to do, and this was the advantage of the New York experience, was to engage in oral history. Now at that time, the term “oral history” didn’t really exist. It was only coined later on in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I had no training in oral history, but this is what I was doing. It was only twenty years after the Civil War. A fair number of people involved were still alive. And I had arrived at exactly the point in time when there was a willingness to sit back and reflect on those years and to talk about them. And provide a good deal of oral history material. I did occasionally need to produce some documentation. It would not have been possible earlier, because the Civil War was too recent. It might not have been possible for someone who was not an American, because of the special relationship with the United States. And they were particularly concerned to be nice to Americans at that time. And the fact that I was not a Spaniard actually worked to my advantage. Because they could presume and feel confident that I was not associated with any Spanish political group. Therefore I had no untoward political motive for whatever I was doing. I seemed to be a doctoral student from Columbia who was very young and doing research in Spain, and relatively harmless. And all this worked to my advantage. So I got a lot of cooperation in oral history.
Tortorice: And you didn’t feel that there was holding back? A sense of caution that they might say something that would get them in trouble or that, had anyone else attempted to interview them? Did you feel you were the first one to really explore this material, and that you had open access? Or did you feel there was a sense still of caution?
Payne: Oh, of course. There was more than a little holding back. And one has to simply evaluate this and put it in perspective that one goes on because everything in oral history has to be evaluated and interpreted. And used in certain ways. You can’t accept what anyone says at face value. Fortunately I’d had just enough experience in contemporary Spanish history to be able to find my way around. On the other hand, it was true that oft times people were quite forthcoming. Because this was at a phase in the history of the dictatorship when the repression had let up. Was not as severe as it had been earlier. It was really very much a live and let live kind of situation. And many people were not reluctant to talk. In most cases, they were not talking about Franco. And therefore they were not saying things that would likely get them into any particular political trouble. That’s the reason I would eventually publish the results of this research. So it was a more fluid situation than one would have expected. As I said, I did not know what I was going to encounter. And I did not understand very clearly how I was going to be able to develop my research. But in fact, everything worked just fine and I was able to generate a great deal of data very rapidly, within about eight or nine months of field research in Spain.
And I traveled around the country a great deal at that time. More than I ever have during a similar period before or after. I wanted to meet people in different areas. I wanted to see the country. And it was also a reasonably comfortable country to be in, because there was a level of economic development which made it much more pleasant to be in Spain than, say, in a communist country. And the transportation facilities were reasonably good. Some of them were very simple. They were good, they were efficient. Things worked on time. And there was just enough of a level of creature comfort for it to be comfortable without all existing in any kind of fancy style of life, certainly not that. But just sort of a minimum level of general wellbeing and efficiency and overall comfort. I was very comfortable that year, and adjusted very fast, even though it was a totally different kind of cultural ambiance from anything I’d lived in down to that point.
Tortorice: So it was still very traditional, especially if you were traveling in the smaller towns. I imagine that that was an immersion into a Spain that probably doesn’t really exist anymore. This was before Costa Del Sol development, all of the tourism. So what were your impressions of life in Spain in those years? Was it still very traditional, as you said, very Catholic, of course.
Payne: Well it was, in fact, the word I’d use is neo-traditional. Because there had been an effort after the civil war to restore traditional values and style. And so that was what impressed me at first. And then coming to the United States, this was an underdeveloped country, though it was not a merely backward country. Just an underdeveloped country. A European country that did not function at the same level of most western European countries. It was in terms of its level of economic development much more like an East European or some other South European country than other typically north or west European countries. But what I did not understand at that time was the capacity for rapid acceleration in modernization, which existed just at that point. And in fact, it was the very month that I left Spain, June of 1959, that the government installed the liberalization program in economic policy, which encouraged foreign investment and more of an opening to the outer world and accelerated development. So that by 1960 and 1961, the economy was taking off.
The other thing I didn’t understand was that the country had made a good deal of progress during the 1950s. The reason why I found Spain comfortable, if underdeveloped, in 1958 was because by that time, things were much better than they’d been in 1948. Then came the boom of the 1960s and everything changed, and changed very rapidly. So that overall I could say that in the past sixty years, Spain has changed more proportionally than the United States.
Tortorice: So, do you think that your being in the right place at the right time, getting that initial insight into the motivations of those who I assume were on the right in the Spanish Civil War, in most cases? That this gave you, that this formed your approach to this conflict, to this period? And that was in contrast to that which was the given approach in the US, in Europe at that time, where the Spanish Civil War was still considered the great event of the century, a very intensely politicized event still in the west. Very much driven by the memories of those who had fought against the fascists. And in particular in that period after the war where anything remotely related to fascism stirred up a huge and fairly predictable response. And you, and you had these insights coming from a more, shall we say, empathic view of some of the actors. And by empathic, I mean, understanding from within. Not necessarily sympathizing, but understanding the thought processes from within them. Do you think that started when you were on your initial research trip there? Did that really form some of your approach to this history?
Payne: Well certainly that was an important part of the research process. And my understanding of Spanish affairs and the way that I wrote up the first book. In general, I had accepted, and indeed espoused, the same attitudes during the Spanish Civil War, which was at least a moderately leftist attitude that, as you pointed out, was common in the Western world at that time and afterward. And that is still the framework within which I operated. But on the other hand, I was dealing with a fascist movement and trying to understand these people. And I was surprised that they mostly seemed fairly normal people. And often on a person level, even rather likable people. So that one had to understand them as you are suggesting, from the inside out, to grasp what really made them tick and what their point of view was so that I think I was able to develop a pretty objective kind of dissertation. It was published by the Stanford Press, became my first book on Falange in 1965. And was very, very well received. I don’t think I ever got a single negative review of that book.
Payne: I’ve often said, in fact, that I should have stopped right then after the first book. I would never get such a positive response to a volume again after that time. It humanized the leader of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936) who had a very attractive individual personality, though he was involved in very radical and destructive politics. And the fact that it did present a more empathic study of these people from the inside out recommended to all kinds of people. And I received very little criticism on the left because it was clear to leftist reviewers that my general framework of values was not very different from their own. And I was trying to understand a group of human beings. And this was generally accepted. So that Harvey Goldberg (1922-1987), for example, was at Wisconsin a few years later when he developed his big 500-student course on the history of revolution for a couple of years used this book as one of his volumes of required reading. Because if you’re going to understand what makes revolutions work, you should understand a failed fascist revolution, such as what happened in Spain as well. That book had a great deal of appeal simply because of those qualities.
Tortorice: And because it was pioneering, I imagine.
Payne: And because it was pioneering. There was nothing at all on that at that time.
Tortorice: And probably nothing on German fascism at that point, or Italian fascism, that was similar to your approach.
Payne: These were the only countries on which there was any literature at that time. On Germany and on Italy. Italy to a much lesser extent in English. But the other fascist movements, beyond those two immediate founding fascist countries, were not studied yet in English, or for that matter in other languages. So this was something of a pioneering work in that field. And had a long life. Remained in print for thirty-five years.
Tortorice: That’s a good way to get going. So you came back to the US. And you applied for jobs, I assume. You had your degree from Columbia. And well maybe I’ll ask you here, when did you meet Juan Linz (1926-2013)? Was he on your dissertation committee? Was he involved in your education? Or was that later that you met him?
Payne: No, I met Juan on my second day in Madrid. Second to third day in Madrid. He had written to me over the summer because he saw that I had a predoctoral grant to do research in Spain. And he had just been awarded a postdoctoral grant to work on Spanish politics. So he said that we should get in touch with each other and he gave me his address and phone number. So I got a hold of him my very first week in Madrid. And I probably learned more from Juan about Spanish affairs during that first semester than from anyone else. He was someone who really had a sophisticated understanding of Spanish affairs and the Spanish political regime from the inside out. Having initially as a very young person worked for the regime, he really understood it. And Juan had a brilliant analytical mind. So he could explain a variety of things that probably no one else would have been capable of explaining for me. Juan was very important in my intellectual formation and in my capacity for political observation and analysis at that time. My considered opinion is that Juan in terms of comparative politics, the analysis of the field of comparative politics, the most brilliant person that I’ve known during my entire academic period. He was simply the top political sociologist.
Tortorice: In some ways, your approach, your analytical approach, has a similarity to his in its conciseness and rational organization. Do you think that you were influenced in your writing style and your research style by him directly? Or was that something that you just felt that you both had a kind of sympathetic approach to—
Payne: I’m sure that Juan has influenced my understanding, possibly even my interpretive approach to political affairs. It’s hard to sort these things out. Your suggestion is a perfectly logical and reasonable one, and I’m sure Juan had some effect on that. It could not really have been otherwise. From that time forward, I was very puzzled by the whole historical phenomenon of fascism. Because I had had not the slightest hesitation in subtitling my dissertation book, “The history of Spanish fascism.” I was sure that the Falange was a fascist type movement. And yet at that point, had you really pinned me down and asked me to explain what a fascist type movement was, I would have replied only in terms of the sort of vague generalizations that most people used, particularly at that time. Of course, they still do today. So that it left a question mark in my mind. Assuming that my interpretation is correct, just how does this relate to other kinds of European fascism? What are the overall parameters of European fascism? And what is the role of the Spanish movement within that framework? So that was something that I puzzled over for, in fact, the next twenty years, until it finally got down to publishing the book on the comparative analysis of fascism in 1980. So the entire period of the ‘60s and ‘70s, in the back of my mind I had this question and was collecting data and library resources on fascism until the point that finally I was able to write about this effectively at the very end of the 1970s.
Tortorice: And you were really the only one doing that at that point. It was not, I mean, what were the main questions that were being asked about fascism in those years? I mean it seems to me that you had the [William Lawrence] Shirer book, you had [Alan] Bullock? you had these general histories that were hugely influential in terms of German fascism. But there wasn’t much else going on, it seems to me, in terms of comparative fascism or what then George helped pioneer in the cultural aspect.
Payne: That only began to develop obviously in about the middle of the 1960s. And George was probably the first to take a major step forward in that. There then did ensue by the 1970s what has been called the fascism debate, in which there were a variety of historians, and also people in the social sciences, who were trying to get a broader kind of analytical handle on fascism. And would ask certain basic questions, such as, is there such a thing as a generic fascism? That is, this fascism as a broader phenomenon, as a general phenomenon, actually exists in the way that we talk about it? Or is what is simply dealing with a tendency, which is expressed in the series of individual movements that ultimately have only a very limited amount in common? So that was one of the major questions. The other was, of course, is to understand what really made fascism. George’s approach was what is the fascist ideology? What is the true philosophy of National Socialism? And where did this come from? How is it expressed? What form does it take? How can you define and analyze it? And there were then other people who began to do that sort of thing with regard to fascist movements, also. George was the first in that regard. And along with this, there were other questions that people wanted to ask. For example, what is the fascist economic policy? Is fascism a revolution? And so on and so forth.
The problem was that the fascism debate did not take a terribly organized form. That is, people would not systematically carry through comparative studies. They would organize conferences. They would publish collected works with chapters on different topics, chapters on different movements. The only person who had written a general book on fascism, of course, was the German scholar Ernst Nolte (1923-2016). He published his book, Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche, Fascism in its Epoch, a rather less accurate English translation title, Three Faces of Fascism, which didn’t get to the heart of the matter as well as the German title, came out in English in 1965.
And then the book also that Eugen Weber (1925-2007), my colleague my at UCLA published about the same time in ‘66 or ‘67, in a series published by, I think it was van Nostrand [Reinhold] called The Varieties of Fascism, which dealt with the different kinds of fascist movements in different countries with just a few paradigmatic text quotations from the programs and the speeches of the leaders of those movements. So there was just a little bit of overarching literature. But mainly it had to do with more and more monographs and books which were collected works. Collective conferences but no systematic analysis.
And my first efforts to try to get something done in this regard were around 1968 or 1970. Not very successful. But when I was asked to participate in a conference in the summer of 1972 at Bergen, Norway, at the Comparative Politics Institute at Bergen on the social basis of fascist movements, I really did a two-part paper. One of the social basis of Spanish fascism, the second on a kind of prototype of general fascist movements that tried to draw these things together. I remember afterwards when I delivered this paper and came back and sat down, I was seated in the audience by Juan Linz, and Juan leaned over and said, “That was very good. That made a real contribution.” That was the first time, in 1972, when I began to develop some confidence that I might be able to complete this kind of comparative analysis study and make it really work and be effective.
Tortorice: Well, let’s go back to the trajectory of your career. So you got your graduate, your doctoral degree, in what year was that?
Tortorice: Okay. Already in 1960. That was quick. So where did you first get hired? Was it UCLA, or?
Payne: I taught in Columbia College eight hours a week my third year at Columbia. I was finishing my degree. Jobs were not easy to get at the end of the 1950s. Plus my advisor knew the profession quite well. He got me a job teaching nine hours a week, three different courses, two preparations, at Hunter College during the spring semester. So it was a good thing that I’d already completed a dissertation. Because my last semester in the doctoral program I was teaching seventeen hours a week. Which involved a total of ten hours a week class preparation. So I was a busy fellow, that final semester in New York.
Then I got a job in the comparative civilizations program teaching survey courses at Stanford on a three-year contract in 1960. I liked the idea. Of course, I was from northern California. And I liked the idea of going back to Palo Alto, where I had done a certain amount of research in the summertime in the Hoover Institution.
But then at the last minute, in June 1960, I received a phone call from the chairman of history at Minnesota, saying they were offering me a tenure track job. Stanford had already agreed to release me from my contract with them. So I went to Minnesota, because there I had the possibility of earning tenure and going all the way up the academic ladder. Spent the two years, 60 to 62, at Minnesota. And enjoyed it. It was a pleasant place. The atmosphere in the history department was very congenial. It was a small department. Had only about twenty-seven or twenty-eight professors. Not nearly as big as some of the others at that time.
And then, after the publication of the first book, in the winter of 61, 62, got two job offers from other institutions. One from the University of Illinois in Urbana, and the other from UCLA. And finally decided to accept the offer from UCLA. Taught there for six years, from 62 to 68, and then came to Wisconsin in 1968.
Tortorice: So, what was the department like at UCLA in those years? Did you make some close friendships? Was it a stimulating intellectual environment? I imagine that that was a place that you had a lot of the stirrings of the student revolts of those years. What was that like there? Were there individuals that stand out, that you recall?
Payne: It was a reasonably good department. Larger than Minnesota. Not as big as Wisconsin. At that time, Wisconsin was 50% larger than UCLA. Now UCLA has not 50% more, but distinctly more FTEs and professorships than Wisconsin does.
Tortorice: And it’s rated one of the top history programs.
Payne: It wasn’t rated quite that highly then. It had a good rating. It was rated near the top of the second decile. Rated about twelfth or thereabouts, twelfth or thirteen in the country. It was a good department. It did not have a very intense interdepartmental intellectual life at that time. And one always saw in Los Angeles the influence of the Hollywood environment on the campus culture. In which things were a little laidback and lacking in intensity and dynamism. But they treated me well. And I certainly was not at all uncomfortable there. But after a while, living in Los Angeles simply begins to grate on you if you’re not a southern California hedonist kind of person, as neither myself nor my wife Julie were at that time. And we decided we would be willing to leave. And that’s when Wisconsin entered the picture in 1968.
Tortorice: So, Eugen Weber wasn’t there in those years.
Payne: Oh, yes he was.
Tortorice: Oh, he was. Because I know—
Payne: He was, indeed. Eugen Weber was one of the main reasons for them making me an offer and bringing me to UCLA. Because he was the chair of the search committee. And he was interested in appointing someone in a new area in modern European history. He was also interested in fascism, and doing good work on the topic. So, Weber had a great deal to do with it. Eugen was my main patron, in fact, at that time at UCLA.
Tortorice: Makes sense, because he wrote this book, this pioneering book on an approach to comparative fascism. And that was something that he was very interested in. I could see why he would want you there, also. And that became a long-term friendship, then, between the two of you.
Payne: Well, yes and no. I mean, we were certainly good friends, and he was my patron. But we did not become close friends. Probably my best friend among the faculty there was a young economics professor, [James] Clay[burn] La Force, who later went on to a major administrative role at UCLA. But he had been doing research in Spanish economic history back in 58 in Madrid. And he probably was a closer friend on the individual level than anybody in the history department. I did not form close friendships in the history department itself at UCLA. Eugen was not a personal friend to the same extent as George was, for example. Although he would have been the equivalent of George at UCLA, because of modern European cultural, intellectual history.
Tortorice: Well, they were friends. I mean, I think that Eugen Weber was not a person that was easily intimate with, or that became friendly with you, from what I—there was always a bit of a distance there.
Tortorice: Because I think that was true of him and George, too. Anyway. So, well, maybe we’ll take a little aside and I’ll just ask you about your political engagement in those years. So you’ve told me in the past that you were traditional Kennedy liberal Democrat in the early 60s. That you may have even worked for Kennedy’s election?
Payne: No, I didn’t work for the Kennedy election. I first by chance happened to encounter the woman I married in Minneapolis, Julia Sherman, a psychologist, at the Kennedy campaign headquarters, where I stopped in one night. But I never worked, I had no involvement, really, with politics at that time. I had pretty much the conventional ideas politically of most professors. But was not involved in politics. And did not see the university as playing any kind of a political role. So I was rather shocked by the rapid and intense politicization of the university in the late 1960s. That was not the kind of university that I had begun with in the 50s. Quite different. And I thought it was a very serious perversion of university life.
The atmosphere in UCLA was quite different. Because, you have to understand the ambiance on that campus. UCLA campus was then, and I think still is, to a large extent, a commuter campus. It doesn’t have same kind of campus life that a place like Wisconsin has, or that Berkeley has. The students tend to live at least some distance away. And it did not undergo politicization in 65, 66, 67, when Berkeley was leading the country in the student politicization.
Tortorice: And Madison, too.
Payne: Madison, too.
Tortorice: Those two. That’s very interesting.
Payne: And UCLA was very different. It changed very rapidly after I left in 1968. Not because I left, but that was really what happened. There was a real burst of radical politicization in 1969. But not in my time. And UCLA very much reflected in those years before 68 southern California life in general, which is pretty dissociate. Much less of a communitarian kind of existence.
Tortorice: It was more like an extension of the 50s, in a sense, there. In the sense that it was more, well, easygoing, not as politicized. Not as culturally radical.
Payne: Not as culturally radical. And also simply socially less organized and less focused. People lived farther away. You didn’t have as many people living close to campus as would be the case in Madison.
Tortorice: Do you want to take a little break now, Stan?
Payne: I think I’ll just put on, grab my jacket. I’m just sitting there and not—
Tortorice: Okay. So we’re at 1968 and you are on your way to Madison. So, I imagine George was involved in your hire. He must have been on the committee because your work had resonance with his.
Payne: George was chair of the committee.
Tortorice: Oh, he was. Okay. Well, that—
Payne: There’s a very sharp parallel between the role of Eugen Weber at UCLA in 62 and of George at Wisconsin in 68.
Tortorice: Yes, well, in a way they were building the field. They were building an area of shared interest and research and that’s what you should do. That’s what gives you the kind of resonance that’s needed to attract graduate students and to make a mark, it seems to me. But, anyways. So you decided to come back from UCLA and come to Madison. You were coming from UCLA, or was it—
Payne: No, directly from UCLA.
Tortorice: So that’s interesting. And you gave us your reasons of why. So of course you knew the reputation of the history department at UW. So, what was that like when you first came to the department? What was the department like?
Payne: It was a different kind of experience because it was the biggest history department that I’d ever been associated with. At that time, in 1968, the Wisconsin history department was at its all-time height. If my memory is accurate, it had at that time sixty-seven professors. Now it didn’t have sixty-seven FTEs. It only had about sixty or sixty-two FTEs, because some of the professors were joint appointees with other departments. But it was a very big department. And it had a gigantic program of graduate instruction with something like seven hundred graduate students on the books. That is about eleven graduate students on the books for every single history professor. That is a huge program. The only other program of that scale in graduate instruction would have been Columbia at that time. Whereas the graduate program in those years at UCLA was much smaller. And graduate students, although they certainly had a certain number, we did teach a certain number of graduate seminars at UCLA, we didn’t have the volume that Wisconsin had.
And the whole structure and feel of things was totally different in Wisconsin as compared with UCLA or Minnesota because of that. And the organization was surprisingly informal. In most departments, graduate students were received into programs in various set, organized ways within certain kinds of niches. The structure of things was very much individualized at Wisconsin. Very European. Very, in a sense, old-fashioned. In which, graduate admissions were carried out not by the department, but by the individual instructor that decided which students that instructor wanted to admit. This was not unprecedented at other places. But it was not the way it was done in most places. There was a great deal of autonomy for the faculty. They brought in their own graduate students. They could really bring in at that point as many as they wanted, as they could handle. And they were supported primarily by TAships. Because of the history boom, there was all the money you could possibly use for TAships available at that time. And it was not rationed out.
What was going on, of course, was that the 60s were the height of the history boom. The golden age of history study in North America was the decade of the 1960s. Reinforced by the radical politics, because the radical students believed that history was possibly the most important thing for them to study. They could learn about society and government and about power and how to gain power, and how power was structured. This was the queen of the arts. And there’s never been a time during the past century when history was as popular with students in general as it was during the 1960s. And that would mean also for a period of about eight years, from 1962 to 1968, there were jobs galore on the history market. Literally everybody got a job. In fact, many new PhDs got jobs before they completed their degrees. They were ABDs who were given acting assistant professor positions just to have bodies to fill the need for teaching slots in various places around the country. There’s never been a time like that. It was an absolutely extraordinary period. A great boom for history enrollment all the way around, for history jobs, and also, of course, for history publication. Because the publishers followed the market trends. And therefore you were in situations by 1965, 66, 67 that you’d find major publishers offering textbook contracts to junior faculty because they couldn’t get anyone else to take them. I remember being offered a major contract to write a kind of textbook of the history of twentieth century Europe. And I had the wit to turn that down, because I realized that I was really not prepared to write that kind of broad and demanding kind of book at that stage in my career.
Tortorice: In many ways, it was, like you said, the golden age. Both essentially free public education, very high-quality education. It was a commitment to providing access to the masses. And then you had this huge explosion of the humanities in general and history on the campus of UW in particular. That then also had huge political resonance. Because that, I mean, I think you could make the case that the history department was the epicenter for the student revolt in those, and most of the leaders were there in that department. Most of the activity generated on campus related to protests had a huge history department component. And you’re telling me that there were seven hundred graduate students. Many of those graduate students were up to their, were very politically involved on the left, of course, essentially. There was, of course, the right reaction to that, that’s less known. But that was the time when George had thirty-eight graduate students, PhDs, dissertators, in his career. And I would say the vast majority were within that ten-year period. Because he stopped, essentially stopped taking graduate students in 72 when that bubble collapsed, essentially. In the early 70s, he stopped taking students. So I’ve always wondered, I’ve never really looked into it, but where in the world—I mean, he must have had about twenty students every year that he was supervising in those years. And you’re mentioning that that department must have been incredibly active. The hallways must have been buzzing. And it must have been an exciting time to be there, I would assume.
Payne: Yeah, it was obviously, Wisconsin in 68, 69 and 70 was a more lively place than UCLA. And there was more internal activity among the faculty. People had more to do with each other. There was more of academic social life than at UCLA. And things were much more concentrated. And to that extent, they were also more intense during that time. And of course, George was very present in those years. When I came to take possession of my office, the very first day of the fall semester in 1968, the first person who said hello was George coming down the hallway when he heard that I was there, with a great beaming smile on his face. I never will forget that. I’ve never seen George beam more than on that particular occasion. So it was very nice to see that. It made one feel very welcome. And within just a year or so, George suggested we got the money to have a visiting lecturer series on fascism. I think it was in 1970, 71, different specialist from the different institutions around the country to talk about basically different countries and different movements. So there were more, shall we say, extracurricular academic programs and activities at Wisconsin. More money available for graduate study because of the large number of history students, the large undergraduate enrollment. And it certainly was a very lively and exciting time. And one could never have guessed in 68, 69, that this was only going to last a very few more years. Although it was a good thing that after the Stirling Hall bombing in the summer of 1970, the student radicalization died down. That did change very fast. And one could not imagine that was going to change as rapidly as it did. So, it was very fast-moving. And then fast-moving changes right after that period.
One only begins to understand these things as one looks back on them with personal and historical perspective. We, I think, did not completely perceive how unique the circumstances of the Wisconsin history department were at that time. We knew they were different. And yet we somehow assumed that maybe this was the beginning of a new normal. It was not at all. It was just a very special time.
Tortorice: I remember, I was there at the tail end of that. And what you’re saying really resonates. Because I think there was this belief that this was just the beginning of something that was going to grow, and that this would be continued. And there’s still a great deal of nostalgia about that period, not only culturally, politically, or whatever, but just in terms of access to jobs. The academic atmosphere, the opportunities, the excitement. I think that that is the golden period that still resonates so strongly, even with young people coming into the field. I think they still feel that there’s this potential.
Payne: Well, there were two particular aspects to it. One simply was the money and the student enrollment base. There were lots of jobs. And that really changed by 1971. By 1971, there simply were not nearly as many jobs. That changed very fast. It was kind of like falling off a cliff. It was not a gradual decline at all. It was very abrupt. And ever since that time, it’s been a struggle for people trying to get jobs in the humanities. And often the jobs have not been there.
And the other part of it, of course, was what you just referred to. The sense of novelty and excitement, that new fields were opening up. That there were important areas that had never been studied. We’d do all kinds of new things. And this created a kind of excitement that after the new areas were opened up, no longer existed, either. Because by the end of the century, the trend was toward micro fields. Small topics in social and cultural history which were miniscule in breadth, oft times miniscule in importance. Which were verging sometimes on trivialization. Quite different from the atmosphere of the 60s and early 70s.
Tortorice: And that has only increased as time has passed, it seems to me. There is this kind of attempt to specialize on the minuscule in vast areas of the history profession. It seems to be that’s the way that students are trained, a lot of them. So it’s fascinating the difference between the kind of history that George did.
Payne: Well, the 60s were the last phase, you might say, of high modernism. This was not a post-modern era. People were certain that they had the truth. They may not have been any more accurate than anyone else, but they believed that the truth could be understood. And therefore it was important to deal with the major problems, the major issues that contributed to the truth. Not the kind of skeptical attitude that you get by the end of the century in which the route to follow is trivialization because it doesn’t make any difference anyway. It’s just a totally different kind of mindset.
Tortorice: So were you aware of George’s work before you came to UW? I imagine you were, his reputation.
Payne: Yes. Yes, I really had not read most of it in detail, but I was aware of George. The thing that really got my attention with George, of course I didn’t pick up on the first book on German völkisch culture for a year or two, was the publication of the Journal of Contemporary History in 1966. That caught my eye right away.
Tortorice: And that was a unique journal in its comparative approach, which resonated with your approach.
Payne: Two, two things. The comparative approach and the resolutely contemporary history approach, which was enshrined in the title. So it was really a breath of fresh air. Very new. And it caught my attention. I would become a charter subscriber even before I came to Madison. Because this was obviously something which was absolutely going to shake things up. And it was absolutely new.
Tortorice: And so when did you have your first article published in the journal? It must have been in the 60s or 70s?
Payne: You mean my first journal article? Or my first in the Journal of Contemporary History?
Tortorice: Journal of Contemporary History.
Payne: I didn’t publish anything in the Journal of Contemporary History for about ten years after I came to Wisconsin. I never published very much in the Journal of Contemporary History. And in fact, compared to a lot of historians, I did not publish that many articles. I was always concentrating on books. So that my article production in terms of the number of articles was not as great as that of some other people, I was a book historian.
Payne: I did not concentrate much on articles. Particularly those early years.
Tortorice: So, what was the European group like at UW during those years? You had Ted [Theodor] Hamerow (1920-2013). You had Harvey Goldberg. It was a distinguished group of very individualistic people. Strong personalities. You had George, of course.
Payne: Yeah. It was a strong field. It was a sizable field. There were twenty or more Europeanists. The European group was almost the size of a few years earlier, the entire Minnesota history department would be. And very individualistic in that as you say there were strong personalities. A lot of achievement. Some very hard workers, and people who got in, some others who were not such hard workers, of course. But very individualistic. Every senior professor especially ran his own show. And everyone who was a full professor, I came in as a full professor. I’d been promoted to full professor at UCLA in 1967 as part of a counter-offer. At University of Wisconsin a full professor could admit his own grad students. And in fact, I admitted two grad students for the fall of 1968. The very first dissertators to work under me came in at that time, because I really had not had any graduate students of my own working directly under me. I’d only worked with other people’s graduate students at UCLA.
Tortorice: And essentially, as you said in those years, you admitted your own students without a committee selection process. And that gave you a great deal of control over, well, your work. When did that change? When did it move to that committee arrangement?
Payne: It began to change later on in the 70s. The first to change were the people in American history. In fact, there was a decline in the student enrollment on the undergraduate level. Because the fallback position at Wisconsin always was after the first year, you could support graduate students with TAships. That didn’t really mean that most students had TAships in any given year. Because a lot of the seven hundred students were sort of part time graduate students who weren’t working terribly hard to finish their degree. But those who really wanted to go on and needed to meet the requirements and so forth could normally get jobs as TAs. And it became clear as the 70s developed, this was no longer the case. And so the Americanists first decided they would control admissions by means of a committee system. And then this might have put some pressure on the Europeanists. But the Europeanists were very slow to change. So the Europeanists, in fact, did not change for quite a long time afterwards. They simply held out and continued do their own thing for some time. For some time the old European system did not change.
Tortorice: So you mentioned that some of the students, some of the graduate students were intensely serious and career-driven. And others weren’t. Do you know what proportion of, say, that seven hundred students actually ended up getting their PhDs and moving on? Would you have any—
Payne: No. No, I would not. Because I would assume that seven hundred, probably a significant proportion did not.
Tortorice: Yeah. That would be my understanding, too, in those years. I think now that’s really not the case. I think if you start in the program, you generally finish with a doctorate. For various reasons. I mean, some people do not finish. But it’s very rare. But so when you came in 1968, that was the year that George stopped spending a lot of time in Madison. So he was transitioning to being gone much more. I mean, it’s my understanding that George never really taught fulltime at Wisconsin. He had a very small pension because of this. I think when he was hired, even when he was hired, he was hired on the basis of having a certain leave, unpaid leave, built into his hiring description. And then when he became a Bascom professor, he even taught less. So it’s quite extraordinary when you think of what he managed to accomplish as a teacher and the fact that he wasn’t actually at Wisconsin all that much compared to some of his colleagues who were there spring and fall every year.
Payne: It was paradoxical. Because George was very dedicated to teaching and he liked to teach the survey course.
Tortorice: Yes. The beginning course.
Payne: Down to the late 60s, he was hired, in fact, in part because of his teaching ability and his reputation in the classroom in doing the survey course. Because the Americanists had dominated the department back in the 50s. And they felt that the Europeans were weak by comparison and weren’t holding their end up. Because they wanted to bring in somebody who could really rev up the basic course in European history. And of course with George, they had exactly the right person. And the other thing, of course, is that he didn’t have the opportunity to do at Iowa was to have the same kind of graduate program. And that simply took off. But it was kind of paradoxical. On the one hand, he was devoted to that. But later on, it became less important to him. He developed different dimensions in life so that that kind of stimulation in the undergraduate classroom particularly was not as important to him as it had been later on.
George was a certain kind of campus personality. For those first thirteen years in Wisconsin, a leader in campus affairs. Very actively involved. This really was the major focus of his life. I think that he found the changes in the university, and the more politicized university, that it really was not the same kind of environment, the same kind of institution that he had dealt with. And he was interested in finding more intellectual stimulation in other ways. And then with the decline in the graduate program, he found his intellectual stimulation more in his relationship with other colleagues in Jerusalem or in Europe or in traveling. And less in dealing with a large number of graduate students. Because between, particularly before 1968, George apparently led a very intense life with his grad students. And after 68, this dwindled fairly fast. So one develops different dimensions and different ways of dealing with things, depending on different phases of one’s life. But George’s career actually changed more than most just as his life probably changed somewhat more than most people’s lives change during the course of it. He lived in several different kinds of worlds.
Tortorice: And that intense immersion in that particular period of what we mentioned as the Golden Age was, for him, probably the height of teaching and graduate supervision and a kind of height of his involvement, certainly, at Wisconsin. Because he was involved in a lot of committee work, he was a presence on campus. He was very much involved with Hillel, with a lot of activities on campus. And as you say, that began to taper off, then, after 68.
Payne: George, I saw this in the aftermath, but he obviously had been a dominant and dynamic type of campus force in the late 50s and 60s. I think particularly that period around 1960 to 68, when he’d been in Wisconsin for a number of years and really established himself and knew his way around and had a strong reputation. He played a very important role in campus affairs. And that ceased to be the case after ‘68.
Tortorice: Well, I know he mentioned that he was, he did some stints on the divisional committee, and that he and Germaine Brée (1907-2001) were tough as nails in terms of who they would let onto the faculty. (laughs) And he was involved, I know, he never had a direct affiliation with the Institute for Research in the Humanities. For some reason, I don’t know why, but he didn’t.
Payne: Well, one of the reasons there is that George felt that when he was not teaching, he wanted to be doing research elsewhere.
Tortorice: Somewhere else. Yeah, makes sense.
Payne: And not in Madison.
Tortorice: So he had more opportunities than perhaps some of his colleagues. That makes sense. Yeah. But I know he said that he brought in a lot of noted speakers, like Hubert Jedin (1900-1980) and people that he worked with the humanities institute to engage. Like noted scholars who would come for periods of time. That there was a lot more money in those years for that kind of thing.
Payne: And there was.
Tortorice: Yeah. That’s right. And did you do the same thing? Did you have colleagues come and bring, did you have a lot of people coming through?
Payne: Well, the money began to diminish. But I always did that, to some extent. And George and I did that together in the series that we directed in 1970s.
Tortorice: So did you, although George at that point was stepping back from supervising graduate students, I assume that the two of you were on committees together. That you perhaps informally were building a field at Wisconsin in terms of, well, the study of rightwing movements, the study of fascism, of rightwing populism. Is that the case? Or were you doing that deliberately? Or was this more informal?
Payne: Well, it was more informal, I think, that we were doing that. We basically had more of a, George was gone half the time. In fact, if you took it on a twelve-month basis, he might be gone more than 50% of the time.
Tortorice: Oh, yes.
Payne: So we sort of did this informally ourselves. This is when we were focusing on and working on. And of course I learned a good deal from George in that regard. And we each did our own thing, but we were working in parallel areas.
Tortorice: In those years?
Payne: Oh, no, that was down to 1980. And then after I turned to other things in the decade of the 1980s. I reached a point in the early 90s well, I’m going to have time for another project. George said to me, “Perhaps you want to write a big history of fascism.” And I went well, in fact, that’s a very attractive topic. I had written a comparative analysis of fascism, which is more like a political science book. Now the time has come to write a general history of fascism. So that became the book that was published in 1995.
Tortorice: That got a lot of attention and good response. Yes. Well in a way, it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t more understanding of what could have been developed here in terms of, I mean, I think informally it happened. I think Madison had that reputation because of the great scholars that were in here in that field. And both you and George pioneered, well, I guess you could say a revisionist approach to current interpretations of fascism at that period. So you probably attracted students automatically because of that. I wonder if it would have even been possible to develop a school of fascist studies. (laughs) It may not have gone very well in terms of, I don’t know. But it seems to me that Wisconsin would have been the place to do that.
Payne: It might have been. We never had the idea of building a, the very nomenclature would seem anomalous, the center for fascist studies.
Tortorice: Right. (laughs)
Payne: We wouldn’t do that. But perhaps it would have to be somewhat broader in terms of rightwing and totalitarian movements. The ethos of the history department, though, of course, in those years, was very individualistic. And so George did not really think in terms of developing a center, nor did I. It’s not something that I especially wanted to do, either. Now a little later on, the regional campus that did develop that kind of ambition was the University of Minnesota. Early in the 1990s. And they had a center for the study of, what did they call it? Rightwing and neo-fascism or something like that. But it fizzled.
Tortorice: Oh, did it?
Payne: It only lasted for two or three years. And then they decided well, they weren’t generating the activity or the support and really they had to cancel it, so it didn’t last very long at all. I went to one of their conferences about 1993 or thereabouts. And soon I found they’d ceased to exist.
Tortorice: Hmm. That’s interesting. Well, so you arrived on campus just at the point that the antiwar movement was developing into a more confrontational, radical approach. And I recall in those years that there were so many sectarian groups on the left. And each one tried to outdo each other in terms of radicalism and extreme political ideas. You had like, well, the Revolutionary Union, which was Maoist. You had the more traditional Communist Party. Then you had the New Left Party, the SDS. It was an incredibly unique time, I would say. Certainly in my lifetime. So what was your—and then you did actually have a reaction to that in terms of a number of individuals who were in Madison in those years, who then went on to prominent positions in the American right, political right. So what was your impression of that period of political and social ferment in Madison when you first arrived? And what was that like in the department?
Payne: Well, I thought it was generally destructive to the university. Because it politicized, that means a sectarian university develops the exact opposite of what should be the ideas of scholarship, which is impartiality and relative disinterest to certain kinds of outcomes. Now, it’s easy to say that. Everyone wants to be objective. And the problem of objectivity in history is a profound one. So that it’s only achieved to a certain extent and in certain kinds of ways. But to have the goal of a university program to be biased and sectarianism in and of itself is simply to give up on the whole university enterprise. I thought, so –
Tortorice: And did you feel—
Payne: It seemed to me it was basically a perversion of the university and that it was necessary to simply ride out the storm as best one could.
Tortorice: Did you feel that that was the direction that the department was going? Or that is the direction that is has pursued over the years?
Payne: The department did not suffer any significant internal politicization or splits. The members of the department in the late 60s were all products of the 40s and 50s, of a university in which the goals and values were based on scholarship and professional achievement, and therefore that one would not try to politicize ones own bailiwick or one’s own institutional structure. And although some members of the department were very sympathetic to the student new left. Others were very much not.
What was, I think, very positive about the Wisconsin department in those years was that it never suffered any internal splits. That is, those faculty who were particularly sympathetic to the new left, like Harvey Goldberg or Ed[ward] Gargan (1922-1995), or some people in American history, did not try to weaponize this within department relations. They maintained pretty much complete neutrality inside the department. And this made it possible for the department to maintain a kind of professional unity and harmony that was not as threatened by student radicalization as one might have thought. So that made the department a much more livable place.
Tortorice: It’s interesting that you say that. Because George would say that you know, Harvey actually within the department structure was not all that supportive of student radicals. That he wasn’t this kind of firebrand within the department that you would expect him to be. He was actually quite conservative about some of those matters.
Payne: Harvey in many ways was an old-fashioned historian, and history professor.
Tortorice: Yes, he was.
Payne: And so he was not trying to use radical student politics as a tool to subvert the history department. Nor was there really anyone in the department who was doing that at that time. So the department maintained its internal culture and its internal unity pretty well. And was quite cohesive. That was perhaps the very best single thing about the Wisconsin department in those years. It maintained its internal values and structure, even though there was quite a division of political opinion among the various professors.
Tortorice: So I mean, the whole field has been so transformed, both in terms of, in the course of your career in terms of the areas that are given more attention, more resources. The fields of European history have been somewhat marginalized in recent years. Whereas other areas of history, such as Asian history, have exploded in terms of the number of faculty, the resources. Also, the approaches to history have changed so radically since the time you were describing with the department had more of a cohesive attitude and perhaps more similarity in background than what you see now. Although that hasn’t changed all that much, I have to say. But I don’t think it would have been possible to sustain that model that you’re discussing here. That that model would never have lasted much longer than it did. But when did the divisions start to emerge that were so difficult for the department in the 90s, I think, in particular?
Payne: The politicization within the department had nothing to do with the radical students. it depended upon the broader workings through of the culture of the new political tendencies through the 70s and 80s, and did not really emerge until the mid-90s with new appointments in some of the fields, new fields which were particularly political fields. Such as women’s history, which came in with that agenda. And some other areas like that. That probably was the main entering wedge. Other things developed from that time on. But the 70s and 80s were a term of slow transition. The aging of the cohort. The history department of 1970 did not have very many people near retirement age. It was at that time a department disproportionately of young full professors. And again, when one lives through unusual times like that, you don’t realize entirely how unusual they were. But you didn’t have a kind of a normal overall age distribution. There had been a lot of important appointments made in the 1960s. And most of these people gained tenure. And you had a very heavily tenured department by 1970, but disproportionately of full professors. So we all aged in place during the 70s and 90s. And that was, of course, the time that George got older and then retired, I think, about 1990.
Payne: Was it 87?
Tortorice: He was seventy in 87. Yeah. Sixty-nine.
Tortorice: He would have been sixty-nine, yeah.
Payne: I thought he’d gone on, I remembered he’d gone on till his seventies. I guess not.
Tortorice: He may have come back to teach every other year or something for a few years there. Yeah. But I think his official retirement was seventy.
Payne: And that’s, particularly you saw the Europeanists retire, the late 80s and early 90s. So there were new appointments in European history for the first time in years by the early 90s. And some changeover. And some of the new appointees were pretty good. And some were not. Although the department did not particularly suffer from those new appointments at that time, they were generally the people who held their end up. More radical changes would come, new appointees that were brought in more at the end of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. And then one would have quite a different department. But this was also part and parcel of the general growth of what for lack of better terminology one could call the political correctness at universities. Which was really brought into existence probably in the course of the 90s, certainly by the beginning of the twenty-first century, in which the new politically correct culture which had been introduced partly by the radical students in the 60s then became part of the process of tenurization, and was adopted particularly by university administration. So that the university administration in the 1990s was very, very different from the university administration of the 60s and 70s. So it was part of a very general kind of transformation of culture and politics, which transformed the entire university, particularly the humanities and to some extent the social sciences. And in no area more than in the administration itself. So by 2000, you’re in quite a different situation.
Tortorice: Well in some ways, perhaps it was an attempt to continue those, that golden period of the 60s. I mean it was, like you said, it was a kind of, the origin was in the 60s. and it was those people that got their degrees in those years that then went on to be tenured and to develop new approaches to history that then became their areas of expertise and their bailiwick within the university. But I suppose it goes back to that idea of politics as a kind of salvation. You know, that it is a kind of inculcation into a mindset that’s meant to really have a kind of maybe even—well, this may be extreme—but a kind of a more of a transcendent approach than was traditional.
Payne: Yeah. The university’s about politics. And this was what was beginning to come in by the 1990s. And there was a lot of politics in the department. Radical students in the 60s and early 70s. The university at that time was not about politics. But it became much more so by the process of cultural transformation, which then began to influence the faculty more and more and the administration and the priorities of the university. And this was a culture of emphasis on alterity and deconstruction, the deconstruction of dominant paradigms. Dominant values, dominant principles. It was a turning inside out of many aspects of university culture.
Tortorice: Of Western culture.
Payne: And of Western culture in general. Right.
Tortorice: Well, I’m struck that the political resonance, the reaction to political correctness, is more noticeable now. It’s had more resonance in this past election. It seems to be something that Fox News is always focused on. And if you do polling, the vast majority of Americans really dislike it. They don’t like this idea of limiting, of having this kind of format of opinion that is correct versus a more individualistic approach, a more liberal approach, some would say, to ideas. And yet in another way, it seems to me young people now are very PC in their opinions. I mean, not everyone, of course. But that in the fact that it has been successful in the sense that it has had a huge impact on this next generation.
Payne: Well, these are the attitudes and values that are inculcated by the educational system. And people are naturally influenced by the system under which they’ve grown up.
Tortorice: Yes. Unfortunately, we as humans (laughs) are perhaps over-influenced, or under-influenced, in many cases, in terms of some people or some segments of the culture, as far as I’m concerned. But maybe we should get back to your work. So, how has your work been received in Spain? I mean, you have a specific reputation there. Are you identified with a particular approach to historical research? I mean, you’re saying that things became politicized here. But I assume that that was very much the case in Spain, in terms of, especially after Franco left the scene, that the reaction to Franco would then have elicited a kind of, well, PC approach in Spanish educational circles. What have your experiences been like in that area?
Payne: Well, the situation, of course, has changed considerably over all the years. My first two books about Spanish affairs dealt with institutions of the right, the Falange and the politics of the military. And were critical of the right and were broadly very well received, and very well received by leftwing commentary. Because this was more or less the sort of thing that leftwing commentary wanted to see done on Spanish affairs.
Tortorice: In Spain, also. I’m talking really more about Spain.
Payne: Well, in Spain, of course, you had, until 1966, a situation of censorship. So that I wasn’t able to even publish a book in Spain until 1972. Spain changed a good deal in that regard in the late 60s and 70s, in which it developed considerable freedom of expression as long as certain no-go zones were respected. That is, no personal criticism of Franco. But you could even criticize aspects of the regime so long as these were presented as technical or objective discussion of policies, institutions and not of Franco’s leadership itself. So that the country changed a great deal during the 1960s. When I was brought in the project on revolutions in the modern world, the latter part of that decade, before I left UCLA, I was given what was a surprisingly large advance to write a book on the Spanish revolution. Now I had not had any such ambition. But it seemed to me a very logical and good idea to work on the left and on the Spanish revolution of the republic and civil war period. So I accepted the hefty advance and set to work. And the fact that we were able to bring in the Southworth Collection at San Diego after I had nominated a Hispanist to be the founding chair of San Diego history department, meant that we even had a good collection of research materials in southern California. And then, of course, also the Hoover Institution. So I did much of my research for the book on the Spanish republic in California.
But when I found to really to my surprise, because I’d accepted the standard interpretation of things, that the Spanish left was basically democratic and supporting democratic institutions, though with some tendency toward radicalization, this was not the case. That in fact the initial subversion of Republican institutions was carried out by the revolutionary left and not by the right, and simply pointed this out clearly and firmly in the book, as well as developed the history of the revolutionary process during the civil war period, this did not make the left happy at all. And they said I had changed. Well I had not changed at all. I was applying the same principles and the same methodology to the left that I had used on the right. But what was critical of one also was equally critical of the other. And that was not received very well at all in some circles.
So that in democratic Spain, there has been more and more division of historical opinion according to political tendencies. And what has become politically correct in Spain is to maintain the myth of the republic. This was a virtuous democratic experiment supported by the left and irrationally subverted and suppressed by the right. And so this is absolutely de rigueur in Spanish university circles. Which, except for the Catholic universities, have almost totally taken over the university systems so that in their own way, Spanish universities are just as politically correct as American universities. You can say in some respects almost more so. It’s typical of the Spaniards that they don’t play any very active political role part of the time. Much of the time is very normal, and even conformist people. But when they become mobilized for some particular point of view, they tend to carry it to extremes. So a Spanish characteristic is a certain periodical extremism. And one finds probably extremes of political correctness in the last ten years in Spain that go beyond anything seen in the United States or even in some other parts of western Europe. So that there is a strong barrage of critical opinion of my work on the part of the dominant established academic left in Spain. And that has grown even stronger during the latest twentieth century as I’ve done more work on the Republican period. So the climate which seemed so very favorable in the 1960s and 70s has become very hostile in recent years because of this politicization. And I am considered a “conservative scholar” in Spain. That is, a conservative scholar is someone who does not espouse leftist points of view but tries to recount objective history according to an empirical methodology and procedure. And so I have many strong supporters there. But also a great many critics. And in the closed world of the politically correct university, I am not well received.
Tortorice: Let’s stop.
Payne: The political correctness is by far the most remarkable because it has no canonical definition. Liberalism had canonical definitions. So did socialism, communism.
Tortorice: What about fascism?
Payne: Even fascism. Fascism is closest in that it had a definition according to individual movements. But fascism did not have the kind of hard and fast doctrine you can find in a number of other movements. Even anarchism had a more clear-cut doctrine, perhaps, than fascism did. So that the principles of fascism had to be understood by praxis, by the values of and polices that were affirmed and expressed, rather than what were laid out in abstract philosophies.
Tortorice: So it was more behavior in terms of, it seems to me that it’s the actual practice. Yeah. That defines it. That it has, yeah. But what about, with fascism would you say like racism maybe would have been a connecting ideology of all fascist movements?
Payne: No. No. Prior to 1938, the Italian Fascism did not have a particular kind of racist or racial ideology. It took a racist attitude toward people in East Africa. That was the standard racist attitude of everybody. And it was not a uniquely fascist attitude. And fascism, of course, had not been initially anti-Jewish at all. That was a change when Mussolini wanted to become more of a parallel to Hitler in 1938. So you can’t even say that fascists are all antisemitic. This is often said. But some fascists have not. [Anton] Mussert (1894-1946), the leader of the Dutch National Socialist movement said that all Dutch Jews who felt themselves a loyal and patriotic Dutchman and who were willing to affirm such principles were welcomed in the movement.
Tortorice: I guess maybe what I meant by, that there always is the other. Or some entity that you are focused on eliminating or destroying or moderating or segregating. But perhaps that’s true of all politics. Perhaps that’s something that’s embedded in political life.
Payne: That’s true of all radical politics. But probably not true of all the politics. The fascists, of course, had their philosophical principles, which they expressed up to a point. The Italians probably more than anyone else in terms of philosophy. Though not in a completely unified way. And of course this was George’s discovery and his insistence in the 1960s, that fascism was ideologically coherent and that it had a set of values and principles that could be explained and affirmed even though they had not all been necessarily canonically stated very clearly sometimes by the fascists themselves, they had an ideology and they were committed to it. Really a breakthrough point for George in the analysis of fascism, which he affirmed very effectively, initially to great skepticism on the part of his professorial interlocutors at Stanford in 1964 because very eminent scholars did not believe that and did not agree with him at that point.
But political correctness is really absolutely amorphous. It doesn’t, I mean, it has doctrinal statements about specific points. That’s all. It doesn’t have any central leadership. It is the leadership of the progressive elite of western institutions. So it’s a very amorphous kind of leadership. It’s organized in certain political parties. Certainly the Socialist Party in Spain, the Social Democratic parties in Europe, the Democrats more and more in the United States. And yet, they are not parties that are themselves organized officially around doctrines of political correctness. They’re organized officially around older doctrines that stem from older political philosophies. And they have adopted this. But they have not enshrined—Obama was a very politically correct president but operated within the traditional Democrat party. And he did not establish a canon of political correctness.
Tortorice: He operated within the Democratic Party. But he didn’t do anything to really support or sustain the party. In fact, the party shrunk radically during his tenure as president. So I mean, that was a case of somebody who did have a kind of political, well, maybe not ideology, but political approach that didn’t have any kind of connection with the realities of politics, in a sense. The down and dirty part of politics. It seems to me—that’s my own opinion, but he always seemed to be floating above, you know, that kind of hectoring approach to people that they aren’t living up to his standards has resonance with what you’re talking about.
Payne: Yeah. Obama played a kind of messianic role. But he just didn’t get involved in the nitty gritty of politics. It was the politics of the leader, but he did not connect it with an organization. It was surprising how the fact that in some respects, the Democrat Party was weaker by 2016 than it had been in 2008. One had not been expecting that, because he had some good electoral organization in 2012. One did not realize that this was not being transferred over to the party itself.
Tortorice: I mean, many people explain that as racism. But I think to some extent you know, it was, certainly that’s true. But it also was, I think, a level of political incompetence and naivete that has to be acknowledged. And also, perhaps, a self-referential thinking on the part of these elites, that they get into these self-referential tropes, as George said.
Payne: Well, that’s a phenomenon, of course, with charismatic politics. Obama obviously very much played on the politics of charisma. And you’ll find other examples of charismatic figures who can’t transfer this kind of support that they generate emotionally among a large number of people into something that’s systematic and sustained.
Tortorice: Yes. well, we should perhaps discuss your teaching career. After all, that’s what you did for most of your life was teach. And write. So, did you enjoy teaching? You taught many, many years a course on World War Two, which was always a popular course. You taught generations of undergraduates. And what were your impressions of the students at Wisconsin? And your experiences as a teacher?
Payne: Well, my experiences with the undergraduates were always enjoyable and positive one. I was not as much dedicated to certain kinds of undergraduate teaching as some people were. And of course the way we taught in those days were was a good deal more simple than in the twenty-first century. We didn’t use all the kinds of teaching aids and visual devices and electronic forms that are employed in the classroom nowadays. It was much more simple kind of thing. The way that George and I taught basically, the classic lecture course using the blackboard. And I didn’t get into other kinds of things until I first developed the World War Two course and I saw that there were, of course, a lot of documentary materials that could be employed in the course. And in fact, the first time I taught, I used too many. I hardly left enough time for the basic classroom instruction. But I became used to teaching the basic courses, the survey courses. And I didn’t particularly enjoy teaching the survey courses because one has to teach in such a thin way. It’s necessary for one to dramatize certain things in order to really get the students’ attention and to be able to convey some kind of understanding of really important things. The kind of teaching that I preferred to do is more empirical.
And George was, I think, the ideal kind of survey course teacher. And he made a big reputation for himself in his early years. I did not enjoy teaching the survey courses as much. I enjoyed teaching more the upper class courses. And more and more as time went on, I did that sort of thing.
Tortorice: Almost like an undergraduate seminar approach.
Payne: Well, the undergraduate seminar became a main feature of the Wisconsin program. Particularly as we maintained the requirement that all graduating history teachers have at least one semester of undergrad seminar. And as the graduate enrollments declined, so that one found that more and more the only kind of seminar course that could be taught by most of the faculty any given semester was the undergraduate seminar. So there would be twice as many or three times as many undergraduate seminars as there would be graduate seminars in a given term. And so that became a special feature of the Wisconsin curriculum in history by the latter part of the twentieth century.
I enjoyed particularly the course on Europe between the wars. That was my favorite course. The great conflict period of European history. And I taught that many times. Later on, I didn’t teach as much the undergraduate courses on Spain, particularly the earlier course, because that always attracted a lower enrollment and I didn’t think it was as important to teach that on the undergraduate level as to teach the more significant courses dealing with wider European history.
And I did redesign in my later years the course on World War Two. And I think I did a very good job on that, by the way. Whereas I did not do a good job when I first introduced that course, or reintroduced it, as early as 1972. The problem there was that the undergraduate enrollments had fallen off a cliff. And in the courses in French and Spanish history were getting low enrollments of twenty-five students. Enough to make them qualify as legitimate courses—no problem about that—never need to cancel that kind of course when you offered it. But compared to the enrollments we’d been getting before and the need to support our graduate students, we had to find more undergraduate enrollment. And so I revived the World War Two course.
Tortorice: Which is a subject that does gain attention from the students. It still is a big course in terms of attracting undergraduates, yes.
Payne: But I don’t think I did a very good job of teaching it the first couple times I taught it. And then I got away from that, teaching other things for a number of years. And only came back to it consistently in the very last years of my teaching life between 2001 and 2005 when I taught it every spring semester for four years. And then I completely reorganized the course and prepared a new set of lectures. These lectures could not be given more than, say, four times. I think that this course using fewer audiovisuals, although using still the very best ones that were available, and then with much more adroitly designed lectures, led to quite a good World War Two course. And I was very pleased with that course, the way it ended up in the final years.
Tortorice: So you did a course on University of the Air, if I recall. There are tapes of that course. Do you recall doing a taped University of the Air lecture series?
Tortorice: Was that in the 70s?
Payne: That was done, yes. Possibly as early as the late 70s and no later than 1980. And what they did, somebody was to take my lectures in the European wars course, and then broadcast as a University of the Air lecture series. That was the course that I taught more frequently than any other course.
Tortorice: Okay. That would be something that we should find those tapes. And reformat them. I think that would be very interesting to see. I mean, I assume, you’d think they’d hold up. They’re probably quite good, actually.
Payne: I would revise them, I’m sure, both in terms of style and also in terms of content at some points. But I think they’re probably still relatively valid.
Tortorice: Okay. Well, we’ll have to see if we can find those and listen to them. I’d be very interested. So you found the students accessible, interested. I mean, there’s always a range of students of course at big public universities. Well, at all universities. You probably had some good students that came through. At the undergraduate level. But then let’s talk also a little bit about your role as a graduate trainer.
Payne: Well, the undergraduate students are fine, normally are simply nice kids. And so they tend to win your sympathy even though you’re not impressed by the academic performance of a good many of the individuals involved. So that the undergraduate students at Wisconsin certainly had their faults and their flaws, but they tended to be sympathetic people. And one wanted to try to instruct them to help them the best one could. And I always tried to be understanding of the sort of special needs or the ones that they had. You are teaching large numbers. I mean, normally I would be teaching lecture courses that had teaching assistants. So I would not be teaching small sections of undergraduate students. The small sections of undergraduate students which come only in the undergrad seminars. In the undergrad seminars, of course, I always endeavored to make the students write, to develop their writing, and to criticize their writing. Because you only learn to write well if you get criticism and feedback on the writing and have the opportunity to improve it. So that’s something that I tried to always build into the undergrad seminars, a fair amount of writing. And having them hand in revised papers whereby they had corrected some of the mistakes or shortcomings they had on their individual drafts.
I never had as many grad students as George did. The total number was probably not more than fifteen in the years at Wisconsin. I did have, contrary to what I said earlier, I did have two students who began their graduate training with me at UCLA. Neither of those finished his degree after I left. They both fell by the wayside. Whereas in fact most of the Wisconsin students who began to work with me did complete their degrees. I know it was very hard in the case of several of them who got their degrees in the 70s to get academic jobs. And they had to go into other fields. The majority of them were able to have academic careers of one kind or another. And almost everybody, with one exception, managed to publish his dissertation.
Tortorice: That’s great.
Payne: Had a high rate of dissertation publication of Wisconsin students.
Tortorice: So, and what proportion, off the top of your head, do you think, did go on to academic careers? Was it the majority? I know a couple of them are in, even now, are in good positions.
Payne: In history, the majority of grad students want to become academics. Because this is not absolutely preparing you for anything else other than that, although it can be used for other things. And you can go into other fields successfully, as a good many people have.
Tortorice: More and more so, it seems that people with doctorates in history go into government, they go into the security state, business, it seems like there’s more and more opportunities outside of academic life.
Payne: But a PhD is an expensive degree.
Payne: And it’s usually not worth the effort to put it all into an academic degree, to completing a doctorate, if you’re not planning to have an academic career. Because you can have these other careers usually without completing a PhD degree.
Tortorice: And you don’t give up ten years of your prime moneymaking life to study. But you know, that seems more like it’s almost a calling, in a way, it seems for a number of the students that I know in recent years, anyway. But then also, well, it’s now we have a fully funded program. So, I mean, I suppose if you balance it out and say you’re giving up some of your main money-making years for an extended period of study—on the other hand, you’re paid. Not well, but now you’re not paying tuition anymore. You’re not paying in the way that you used to have to pay. So, I don’t know. I guess it probably is, if you’re looking at just in terms of economics, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. (laughs) It probably never did. But, you know, I think people go into history for all kinds of reasons, besides the potential for making money.
Payne: Well, of course I was very fortunate person because my timing was so good. I went in at exactly the right time. And certainly, I never suffered economically. I believe that I had believed that I would be able to make a living as an academic. I didn’t expect to make relatively as good a living as I did.
Tortorice: Well that was, it sounds like you’re a bit like your father. You always were a very hard worker. I mean, you always really have devoted yourself to intense engagement in history and research and teaching. I think that might be the reason that you were as successful as you were.
Payne: Well, as you say, it is a calling. And I think it is for most people who do PhDs in history. Because they don’t assume this is the way that they’re going to maximize their income. They really want to do that. So my students probably, at least 50% of them have had academic careers. Some have had to go into other things. I had several getting their degrees in Wisconsin in the 70s who simply had to go into other lines of work. One of them became a librarian in the city of Napa. The head of the Napa city library became his main career eventually.
Tortorice: Not so bad.
Payne: And then later on, in the 80s, when it was a little easier to get an academic line, one of my best students was Colin Winston, who is a Madison boy. Did a summer internship the year before he finished his degree with the CIA. And they offered him a very good position with some seniority and salary, better salary than he could get in the academic world, moving in at a more of an intermediate level with the CIA. So he’s had his career in the government intelligence agency. And various people like that. But at least it has been gratifying that a certain proportion of them have been able to develop academic careers.
Tortorice: Well, perhaps we should finish up and just discuss George as a teacher once more. It seemed that his approach to teaching was teaching as provocation. I mean, and I’m wondering whether, I mean, he felt that you had to somehow break through the encrustations of ideology that students came in with. I mean, I do think that he had a kind of sense of a calling to do that. That he felt like he needed to really confront, provoke students in a way that probably isn’t possible now because you would feel—I mean, maybe he would have learned other ways of doing it. (laughter) But his style of teaching probably would not resonate anymore.
Payne: No. There would be reaction on the part of some that he was making them uncomfortable and making them feel unsafe.
Tortorice: Yes. I would think so.
Payne: George was already saying in the last years of his life about 96, 97, that it was a good thing that he was retiring, because he just couldn’t teach anymore in the liberal university. He didn’t know how to be politically correct. And his whole, basically his whole style was to be more or less politically incorrect when teaching.
Tortorice: Yes. Yes. That’s right.
Payne: Of course, the old university was up to a point tolerant. And therefore you could be politically incorrect and still be operating within the standard university mores. Nowadays, there’s much more emphasis upon conformity to political correctness. And if you’re politically correct according to mores of the twenty-first century, of course, this simply is not going to tolerated.
Tortorice: But you wonder in a way whether given the political climate in Wisconsin now, whether someone like, say, Harvey Goldberg or George or some of those other very provocative figures, would really be allowed to teach in the way they did. In the current academic and political scene. From both sides.
Payne: Oh, no, no. To challenge the dominant university mores the way that people like George and Harvey and some others did would simply not be permitted nowadays.
Tortorice: Yeah. It’s very different. It’s a very different atmosphere. The one person that I think had a kind of charismatic provocative approach in recent years was Don[ald] Downs (b. 1948). I don’t know if you ever went, and he had a kind of pied piper following that would, they would subversively skewer the PC administration in various ways. That Don, to some extent perhaps would orchestrate in terms of—
Payne: You’re absolutely right. And I think that Don’s style was less provocative.
Tortorice: Well you know, I took one of his courses. And I thought that he was quite provocative in the, and I think he actually agrees with me on this, because I’ve talked to him about it. He was really very aggressive in attacking the Clintons, for example. And in attacking university administration. I mean, he was really out there. Yeah.
Payne: Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never seen Don in a classroom. So you know more about this than I do.
Tortorice: Oh, he’s a great, very provocative. Very provocative. Yeah. But anyway, well, perhaps we should wrap it up here. And if we’d like to continue, we can. If we come up with some more scintillating topics. But thank you so much, Stan. This was great.
Payne: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome.
02:22:37 End of Interview Session