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David Elliot Oral History Interview with Carol Buge

 Digital Record
Identifier: 2016-02-17-000069


  • Other: 2016 February 17


Interview conducted in five sessions, April and May 1986, by Carol Bugé with David Clephan Elliot, professor of history, emeritus, who arrived at Caltech in 1950 as an assistant professor, was appointed full professor by 1960, and served as the humanities and social sciences division's executive officer from 1967 to 1971, as well as the secretary of the faculty from 1973-1985. Born and raised in Scotland, he received his MA in 1939 from the University of St. Andrews. In 1940 the British government sent Elliot to India, where he spent six years in the Punjab region working for the Indian Civil Service. In 1947, Elliot entered Harvard University, where he received an AM in 1948 and a PhD in 1951; later, in 1956, he also received an MA from Oxford University, where he studied international organizational law.

The interview begins with Elliot discussing his early years in Scotland, the outbreak of World War II, meeting his future wife Nancy, and his experiences in India. He then goes on to discuss his decision to settle in the U.S., and more specifically his arrival in California in 1950. His recollections of the 1950s and 1960s at Caltech include descriptions of the makeup and character of the campus and the students; the humanities division under the chairmanship of Hallett Smith; and later, with the addition of the social sciences to the division, the gradual shift in emphasis from teaching and survey courses to research and specialization, which took place under the helm of Robert Huttenback. Elliot discusses History 5 and the eventual development of the California Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy. He recounts the visit of Alexander Topchev and other Soviet scientists to Caltech in the early sixties. Elliot compares and contrasts the Caltech presidencies of Lee DuBridge, Harold Brown, and Marvin Goldberger: the men, their respective policies, and their influences on the campus. This includes recollections of: Linus Pauling's political activities, the Honker Group, the La Belle tenure case, the Arroyo Center, and Caltech's seventy-fifth anniversary.

Throughout the interview there are interesting anecdotes regarding a wide variety of individuals: Dr. and Mrs. Robert A. Millikan, Hallett Smith, Alan Sweezy, Matthew Meselson, Carl Rogers, Robert Huttenback, Robert Christy, Harold Brown, Roger Noll, Rochus Vogt, Marvin Goldberger, Phillips Talbot, Matthew Sands, Dean Acheson, General Lauris Norstad, Charles Lauritsen, Albert Hibbs.

Elliot concludes the interview discussing his retirement, his years as secretary of the faculty and a member of the steering committee; offers from other institutions; his association with trustees; consulting work for RAND, NASA, and the Ford Foundation; and his research on London during the English Restoration as well as the Vista Project.

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