Kevin Starr ’62 Chronicled California History

Preeminent historian dead at 76

By ARVIN TEMKAR, USF NEWS Posted Wed, 01/18/2017 - 13:55

Kevin Starr ’62, California’s foremost historian, chronicled in his books the tumultuous story of a great state — from California’s early Native American roots to its frenzied Gold Rush era to its modern-day status as a global leader of culture and technology.   

“Whatever else California was, good or bad, it was charged with human hope," wrote Starr — who passed away Jan. 14 at age 76 — describing how the state’s reputation became indelibly etched in the public’s mind in the years after the Gold Rush. "It was linked imaginatively with the most compelling of American myths, the pursuit of happiness." 

The fourth-generation San Franciscan was best known for his eight-volume book series “Americans and the California Dream,” a sweeping cultural history of the state published over 36 years. In his wide-ranging career, which spanned journalism to academia, he served as state librarian from 1994–2004 and was a communication professor at USF from 1981–89. More recently, Starr was a history professor at the University of Southern California. 

“Bigger than life”

“Kevin Starr chronicled the history of California as no one else,” said Gov. Jerry Brown in a statement Jan. 15. “He captured the spirit of our state and brought to life the characters and personalities that made the California story. His vision, like California itself, was bigger than life.”

At USF Starr earned a degree in English, and was editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper The Foghorn. He went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. 

USF awarded Starr an honorary degree in 2008. He received the National Humanities Medal in 2006. 

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A Mass of the Resurrection for Kevin Starr will be held at St. Ignatius Church on the USF campus on Friday, Jan. 27 from 10:30–11:30 a.m. Limited parking is available. Use of ride-sharing services, taxis and public transportation is strongly encouraged.