Kevin M. Kruse, aka @KevinMKruse, is a history professor. He wrote many threads about this topic, but he’s also known for his political threads. Kevin published several books and is working on the 5th.
Interview published on July 25, 2019
Q. Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
A. I’m a professor of history at Princeton University, specializing in 20th c. American history with an emphasis on politics and civil rights.
Q. Did you know you’d become a professor when you were a kid?
A. No. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I made becoming a professor my goal.
Q. According to you, what is the most important quality to have to share knowledge efficiently?
A. The ability to express complex ideas as simply as possible. In both written work and lectures, clear language is a must.
Q. When did you start writing and why?
A. I started writing as a college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I wrote a number of papers in my History courses and a senior honors thesis, but I also spent a good deal of time writing in other styles. I took a lot of creative writing courses in poetry, for instance, and did a second honors thesis for that. I don’t think I was a talented poet by any means, but I learned a lot about the rhythms of writing and word choice along the way. I also worked as a humor columnist for the campus newspaper, which helped me break free of more formal writing styles and hone a clearer tone.
Q. You’re working on your 5th book, The Division: John Doar, the Justice Department, and the Civil Rights Movement, how is it different from the time you published your first one?
A. My first book, like most academics’, came out of my dissertation, which meant that it was crafted with an incredible support system — with my advisers in my PhD program helping point the way, and then my senior colleagues at Princeton offering insights as I revised it into the book. These days, I’m largely on my own, and while I certainly still lean on colleagues and friends in the field for their thoughts and feedback, the entire process — from coming up with an idea and setting a research agenda, to writing and revising the manuscript — is largely on my own shoulders. It’s liberating, but in a slightly unnerving way.
Q. What is your advice for young people interested in history?
A. Read widely, paying attention not just to the underlying facts in a particular text, but the ways the author crafted the text. More than the answers, what were the questions that animated the project in the first place? How did the author go about answering those questions, with what sorts of materials? How was the argument structured, and how was the narrative crafted?