It is with great sadness that I must on behalf of the IAMHIST Council tell members and friends of the death of Professor David H. Culbert. David was one of the pillars of our organization from its earliest days. He was a mainstay of conferences, masterclasses and above all its journal, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, which he edited for many years and continued to serve as editor emeritus. IAMHIST formally marked our collective debt to David at the end of his tenure at HJFRT by naming its annual prize for the best article by a senior scholar The David Culbert Prize.
David was born in 1943 and educated at Oberlin College, Ohio where he majored in German history. He also trained as an organist, holding a bachelor of music in organ performance from Oberlin Conservatory, and studying music in Salzburg, Austria, which prepared him for a life-long side career as a church organist and choir master. In 1970 David completed his PhD in American History at Evanston, Illinois, studying the role of radio news commentators in the 1930s America, which became the subject of his first book: News for Everyman: Radio and Foreign Affairs in Thirties America (Greenwood, 1976). He became especially well-known for his work on film propaganda in World War II using his command of German to bring archive-based insights into scholarly discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. His research achievements included conducting two interviews with Leni Riefenstahl.
It is characteristic of David’s great generosity with his time and intellect that much of his career was spent opening opportunities for other scholars as an editor of document series such as his multi volume Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History (Greenwood, 1990-1993) or the microfilm edition of the OWI archive: Information Control and Propaganda: Records of the Office of War Information (UPI, 1986) or the scholarly editions of major texts like Warner Brothers’ Mission to Moscow; as the editor of such widely read anthologies as World War II, Film and History (OUP, 1996), co-edited with John W. Chambers, or as the editor of our own HJFRT. It is appropriate for a man whose knowledge of the field was often described as encyclopedic that his publications included Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present, co-edited with myself and David Welch (ABC-Clio, 2003), a task he took on as a favor and which was greatly enhanced not only by his perceptive entries but also by some of the amazing propaganda images from his personal collection. David was an activist for the preservation of film; giving testimony on the subject on Capitol Hill. He pioneered bringing audio-visual evidence into the classroom. He spoke up for academic freedom and free speech. He was an essential presence at IAMHIST conferences where he presented his own work, and guided others as an insightful chair, discussant and engaged participant.
David was a devoted teacher whose decades of service at Louisiana State University were recognized by the award of the inaugural Loos chair of History in 2005, however his classroom was so much wider. He was an inspiration to colleagues in the field and a generous mentor to younger scholars who could depend on him for a supportive letter of recommendation. He was an entertaining speaker, whose presentations were known to include his bursting into song if the material called for that, and on at least one occasion he stepped up to play an accompaniment for a conference screening of a silent film. He was excellent company, with an infectious enthusiasm for a host of subjects from book collecting to choral music. He was a genial presence with a dry wit and an eye for comic side of everyday life. For the Council of IAMHIST he was a friend and an essential part of the management of our organization for the past thirty years. It is hard to imagine IAMHIST without him. Our thoughts are with his family and especially his wife, Lubna. He will be much missed.
Nicholas J. Cull