004: Gil Troy, 44

Gil Troy, 44

Top Young Historians: Index

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor of History, McGill University (Chair of McGill’s Department of History, 1997-1998)
Area of Research: Modern United States Political History
Education: Ph.D, Harvard University, 1988
Major Publications: Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady Univ. Press of Kansas, 2006)Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (Princeton Univ. Press, 2005); Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2000) (an updated version of Gil Troy JPGAffairs of State: The Rise and Rejection of the Presidential Couple Since World War II) (Free Press, 1997); See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate (Harvard Univ. Press, 1996, Free Press, 1991).
Awards: Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Research Grant for $44,000, 1998-2001;for $57,000, 1994-1997; Research Grants from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation 1987, 1994; Gerald Ford Foundation 1990, 1994; Harry Truman Library Institute 1987, 1993.
Additional Info: Troy comments frequently about presidential politics on television and in print, with recently published articles, reviews and comments in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostThe Montreal GazetteThe National Post, and The Wilson Quarterly, among others. He has appeared on CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, PBS, and on Canada’s CTV, and CBC. Television appearances include Election Night coverage on CTV News with Lloyd Robertson, and the PBS First Ladies’ Special produced by MacNeil-Lehrer Productions.
Maclean’s Magazine has repeatedly designated Troy as one of McGill’s “Popular Profs,” and he has been listed in their 2005 issue ranking Canadian universities.

Personal Anecdote

One of the first real history books I ever bought was “Why the North Won the Civil War,” edited by David Donald. I was 9, and, didn’t open the book for years. Still, Professor Donald was probably the first historian I ever heard of, so studying with him in graduate school was like learning hitting from another boyhood hero (and I risk emerging as a not-so-young historian), Mickey Mantle. That sense of excitement, of fulfilling boyhood dreams, remains. I feel lucky, and still a bit shocked that books and articles I write get published or that students listen to my lectures, just as I learned from great professors, who included, in addition to Professor Donald, Bernard Bailyn and Alan Brinkley. I remember that first time I TAed. As students transcribed my words, I felt like saying, “I hope this is right…. I only sound authoritative.”

I loved graduate school. There, as in college, I was quiet and non-controversial. (I tell this to students, reassuring them that it can take a while to find your voice, but there’s always time to compensate, or, as some would say about me, over-compensate.) Despite being a “good boy,” I did almost blow up half of Pittsburgh once. Researching my dissertation on presidential campaigning, I had to tour the losers’ archives. A grand trip took me through the American heartland from Albany (Al Smith) to Chicago (Stephen A. Douglas) back east – in my cousin’s “hand me down,” 13-year-old 1974 white Camaro with a V-8 engine, elaborate hubcaps, and red leather interior. My friends, bemused by their penurious, unfashionable friend driving a sports-car, called me “Spike.” Driving east from Dayton (James Cox), I stopped in Pittsburgh. While pumping gas into the back of this pre-oil crisis gaz guzzler, I opened the trunk, and began pouring the usual quart or two of oil into the front. Some oil spilled on the overheated engine and ignited. Envisioning the car catching fire – and blowing up the entire neighborhood – I did what any graduate student would do – I plunged into the car and removed my notes…. After that, I extinguished the fire by throwing water on it, only to be yelled at by the mechanic for throwing water into the oil tank, which he then charged me too much money to drain, it being a Sunday.

I often say, “I love my job but I hate my profession.” We historians, collectively, have not had honest, self-critical, absolutely necessary discussions about the lack of support so many of us feel, the impersonality of too many conferences, the aridity of presenters droning on with often incomprehensible and pedantic texts, the excessively political job market, the demoralizing dynamic of graduating with a PhD, then begging for work, the too many historians who only speak to those who agree with them politically AND methodologically – among other problems. Still, I feel blessed to wake up every day and be my own boss, follow my own muse, and either have to write, research, or teach – all activities I would pay to do, for which I get paid.


By Gil Troy

  • “Studying Ronald Reagan is not for the faint-hearted – or the untenured. Ronald Reagan remains a contentious, often polarizing, figure. Too many Americans praise Reagan blindly, while too many others simply bash him…. [T]oo much of the hype around the Reagan funeral reflected an intolerance for any thoughtful, balanced assessments, which inevitably include criticism. And the cascade of adjectives lionizing Reagan’s personal traits did not explain how they interacted with his surroundings and shaped the times. As I said of a different ruler when I played Marc Antony in sixth-grade, I come neither to bury Reagan nor to praise him. The goal of the book is to understand Ronald Reagan, his impact and his times.” — Gil Troy in Morning in America
  • “[T]his book concentrates on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rocky tenure as First lady from 1993 to 2001…. The book explains how Mrs. Clinton’s personal and political passages in the 1990s helped set up the unprecedented move down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to Capitol Hill. The book describes the public adulation and loathing Mrs. Clinton experienced and how she became one of America’s most famous and controversial Democrats and One of the world’s most famous and controversial women. The book traces Mrs. Clinton’s ups and downs in the White House, showing how her often-searing experiences enhanced her popularity and her power. Being first lady transformed Hillary Clinton into a modern American icon, even as her dreams of reforming health care, revitalizing American values, and redefining the first lady as a co-president vanished. The book also roots Mrs. Clinton’s centrism on the abortion issue—and others—not in the political exigencies of today, but in an evolving philosophy which has elements that are far more traditional than either her liberal fans or her conservative detractors appreciate. By reading hundreds of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speeches and columns, it becomes easier to understand the kind of senator she has become—and the kind of American leader she wants to be.HRC JPGLike it or not, love her or hate her, one thing is clear: Hillary Rodham Clinton is not likely to go away soon. Just as she sought to be the most powerful first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, she is now on her way to becoming the most influential ex-–first ladysince Eleanor Roosevelt. Of course, as of this writing, with Democrats calling Hillary Clinton’s Neo-Georgian Georgetown mansion the “White-House-in-Waiting” and “Fundraising Central,” many supporters are actively hoping and planning to make Senator Clinton the first first lady and first woman ever to leap from a supporting role in the East Wing to the leading role in the West Wing….

    As I researched and wrote this book many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances asked the same four questions, repeatedly. Although I tell my students in class that there are no stupid questions, alas, all four persistent questions represent the sorry state of modern American political discourse and the particularly pathetic status of the conversation about Hillary Clinton. People want to know: “Where do you stand – do you like her or hate her?” This question reveals an unfortunate, high stakes, polarized, overly emotional, Ebert & Roeper, “thumbs up or thumbs down” approach to history and politics. Historians want to know what are her strengths and weaknesses, what were her successes and failures?

    Friends inquire: “Did you interview her,” demonstrating a talismanic faith in journalistic techniques in our age of “mediaocracy,” overlooking the limits of what interviews with well-practiced celebrities can achieve, and the corresponding historical distance lost. A more open, historical question would be: “what sources are available to understand who she is and what she has done?” Many wonder: “Is she a lesbian,” betraying an addiction to sensational gossip to the detriment of serious discussion of political values. And almost all ask: “Will Hillary Clinton become President in 2008,” reflecting a culture which speculates obsessively, perpetually handicapping the political horse race,looking for crystal balls not historical insights.

    This book is not a complete Hillary Clinton biography – but a book about what she did – and did not do – as first lady in the White House, as part of a broader intellectual project attempting to understand the modern presidency and the role of first ladies therein. I do not wish to read Her mind. Rather, I want to measure her historical footprint. In search of The historical Hillary Clinton, trying to understand her tenure as first lady, this book considers her predecessors’ experiences while assessing the historical forces shaping her life and times. — Gil Troy in “Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady


About Gil Troy


  • “Gil Troy’s masterful study of Ronald Reagan’s presidency – the best single book we have on his administration to date.” — David Turner, Raleigh News & Observer
  • “I thoroughly enjoyed every single chapter of Morning in America! Gil Troy has written a wonderful book: important, full of fresh insights, and fun to read. I especially like how he weaves the cultural phenomena of the time with Reagan’s personal qualities and influence, showing how Reagan was affected by the culture around him and how he changed it.” — Lesley Stahl, Correspondent, 60 Minutes
  • “This fast-paced, consistently readable book successfully combines two difficult tasks. It is at once a first-rate interpretive presidential history and a stimulating exposition of the culture of the 1980s. Troy has given us a sweeping, balanced–and indispensable–account of the Reagan Era.” — Alonzo L. Hamby, Ohio University
  • “Going to a Troy lecture was like sitting in a crowded theater watching a one man spectacle. The class was always packed, and he would always put on a show. At times commanding with his booming voice, at times singing – the man did it all. — Anonymous former student


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