From Scotland to India: A Conversation with American Historian Betty Unterberger

Historians in the News

The OAH profiles Betty Unterberger.

Born in Scotland in 1922 and raised in the U.S., Betty Miller Unterberger began her college career at Syracuse University on a forensics scholarship. Bored to death with the speech curriculum, she took a citizenship course from Marguerite J. Fisher, the only woman professor she ever had. From Fisher, Betty developed an interest in political science and history. At Syracuse and later at Radcliffe College (now Harvard) where she went for her Master’s degree, Betty took American, British, Russian, and East Asian history. When she finally decided to go into American history, she had the background that made the history of American foreign relations a logical choice.

Betty was at Harvard during the Second World War and she took a course in diplomatic history from Thomas A. Bailey, who was visiting from Stanford. Bailey, a “fabulous lecturer” who “was like a combination of Saint Paul and Saint Vitus,” became one of Betty’s “lifelong heroes.” It was from Bailey that she first learned about American troops in Russia at the end of World War I. Intrigued by this little known episode in Russian-American relations, she went on to write her Ph.D. dissertation on the subject, which became the basis for her first book. America’s Siberian Expedition, 1918-1920: A Study of National Policy won prizes from both Duke University and the Pacific Coast Branch of the AHA.

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