At the end of this year, John Demos will retire from his position as Samuel Knight Professor of History at Yale University. For the past decade, Professor Demos has offered a course on “Narrative and Other Histories” for graduate students, and encouraged innovative writing and the conversation between history and fiction in the classroom, in academic journals, and after hours, through support for the Writing History colloquium at Yale.
Too modest by half, in this interview, Demos doesn’t describe his role in fostering the careers of Jill Lepore, Jane Kamensky, Jennifer Price, Aaron Sachs, Wendy Warren, and others who have trail-blazed innovative historical writing in recent years, nor does he mention the namesake John Demos Prize in American Studies, at Barnard College. But he does offer insights into how his career has embraced numerous historical styles, including the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England(1982) and The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1994), winner of the Francis Parkman Prize and the Ray Allen Billington Prize and finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. And he discusses the openness and curiosity he considers essential to finding the best historical methods for a project and how to have confidence in one’s voice as a writer.