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History Professor Gregg Herken Creates Intriguing Courses Based on Scholarly Research

January 22, 2004
Modern American History Comes Alive at UC Merced

MERCED, CA — Intrigue. International espionage. Deal-making behind closed doors. This is the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel. And unique insight on these and other captivating topics is what students and readers gain from Gregg Herken, Ph.D., a researcher and author of four books about nuclear history and the Cold War.

Herken is one of few scholars who have amassed a vast breadth of knowledge on the most powerful forces shaping the path of modern American history — the development of the nuclear age, the Cold War, space travel and American foreign relations. Now, Herken brings his expertise to the University of California, Merced.

Recently named as a Professor of History in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts (SSHA), Herken plans to present a course on “Nuclear America” and a seminar entitled “Space, Intelligence, and National Security” at the university, along with additional courses on modern American history. Also in the works, he says, are efforts by the SSHA and science faculty to offer a master's degree together with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“The university is talking to the lab about starting a national security studies program jointly in cooperation with the lab's staff researchers,” Herken says. “There seems a natural tie-in between my research interests and the work of our University of California colleagues at Livermore. In fact, my most recent book deals with the origins of Lawrence Livermore Lab in some detail.”

Herken's latest book is Brotherhood of the Bomb: the Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. The book was a finalist for the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and has the historical distinction of being the first paperback to bear the name of a UC Merced faculty member. Herken received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant for the research and writing of the book.

“We are proud to have attracted a scholar of such national stature to UC Merced,” says Dean of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Kenji Hakuta. “Professor Herken, in the best of tradition of the humanities, helps us bring our experience from the past to understand the present.”

At UC Merced, Herken will research a new biography on two key figures in American diplomacy as part of his continuing historical series. “I have a long-term project in mind about George Kennan and Paul Nitze,” he says. “Kennan was the foremost American Soviet expert. He's now in his 90s and I have interviewed them both over the years. Kennan was the diplomat and academic theorist. Nitze was the policy-maker.”

Herken also has written The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, Counsels of War and Cardinal Choices: Presidential Science Advising from the Atomic Bomb to SDI.In addition, he has served as a senior research and policy analyst to President Bill Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy as a result of research he conducted for Brotherhood of the Bomb.

For the past 15 years, Herken was a Senior Historian and the Curator of Military Space at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. While there, he served as one of the organizers of a MacArthur Foundation-funded symposium series, “The Legacy of Strategic Bombing.” He also was chief curator of “Trust But Verify,” a 1990 exhibit on the end of the Cold War and was the responsible curator for “Space Race,” a continuing exhibit that opened in 1997. It features 98 artifacts chronicling the history of the Cold War and space programs of the United States and former Soviet Union.

Herken received a B.A. in politics and history from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in modern American diplomatic history from Princeton University. Following the completion of his doctorate, he taught at California State University, San Luis Obispo, and was a Fulbright-Hays senior research scholar at Lund University, Sweden. Between 1979 and 1988, Herken held non-tenure track teaching positions at Oberlin College, Yale and Caltech.

Herken was a member of UC Santa Cruz's first graduating class in 1969 and found the chance to complete the cycle as one of UC Merced's first faculty members too compelling to resist.

“It's a challenge, a totally new place,” he says. “Here I have the opportunity to be a pioneer faculty member. At UC Santa Cruz, there was a great sense of ferment and excitement among the staff and students. The students were willing learners and excited about being there. There was a quality and enthusiasm about the place that was unique and inspiring. We hope to have that here.”

Bruce Larkin, Ph.D., a professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz, had Herken as a student in the 1960s.

“Gregg is a distinguished historian and we're delighted that an undergraduate in history and politics at Santa Cruz has had such a successful and productive career,” Larkin says. “Gregg has two great strengths, archival research and a capacity to locate and interview informants from 30 to 40 years earlier who actually participated in these events.”

Herken and his wife, Linda Aven Switzer, have a son, Benjamin, 10. They reside in Merced and Santa Cruz.

UC Merced is the first major research university to be built in the United States in the 21st century. Already serving students through a concurrent admissions program with three regional community colleges and summer session courses, UC Merced has a special mission to meet the educational needs of California's San Joaquin Valley. Scheduled to open in August 2005, the campus currently employs about 165 faculty and staff members. Over the coming decades, UC Merced will grow to serve a student population of 25,000.