John Pettegrew

Photo of John Pettegrew

The Veterans Empathy Project was created by the late historian Dr. John Pettegrew. Pettegrew was considered one of the leading scholars of modern American masculinity, and he produced a body of work characterized by archival range, methodological flexibility, conceptual sophistication and a dual commitment to historical rigor and contemporary political relevance.   

Although Pettegrew passed away at a young age, his work will continue to influence scholars and activists for years to come. In his first book, Brutes in Suits: Male Sensibility in America (2007), Pettegrew documented the cultural process by which millions of Americans came to believe in the late 19th century that men were inherently disposed to violence, aggression and the domination of women. In his second monograph, Light It Up: The Marine Eye for Battle in the War for Iraq (2015), Pettegrew extended this inquiry into the evolution of violent masculinity in a highly original study of the technologies and ideologies of martial manhood in the U.S. Marine corps during the era of the post-9/11 war in Iraq. 

The feminist commitments that animated both of these books also found expression in the three-volume anthology, Public Women, Public Words: A Documentary History of American Feminism (1997-2002) that Pettegrew co-edited with Dawn Keetley, professor of English at Lehigh University. In A Pragmatist’s Progress? Richard Rorty and American Intellectual History (2000), Pettegrew brought together some of the leading intellectual historians of this generation to reflect on the implications of American pragmatism for the practice of intellectual history. His preoccupation with feminism, pragmatism and intellectual history was further extended most recently in an article in The Journal of Women’s History (Spring 2018). At the time of his death, he was at work on a new book, Love in the Twentieth Century: an Intellectual and Political History.

A committed citizen of the university from the time he joined the Lehigh faculty in 1996, Pettegrew contributed to many university initiatives. He chaired the history department from 2016-2018 and was the director of the interdisciplinary program in American Studies for 14 years.

From 2007-14, he was co-founder and director of the South Side Initiative, a nationally recognized project of democratic university-community collaboration between Lehigh and the working-class neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. In recent years, he also helped to create the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Film and the LVAIC documentary film minor. Over the years, he produced a number of documentaries, including “Work in Progress: Bethlehem Steel During World War II,” which grew from a class assignment to his students and ultimately aired on the History Channel’s History Showcase. He was also a driving force behind Lehigh’s Community Gardens project. The gardens have expanded beyond the first shared space on the Goodman Campus, and now include several gardens throughout the South Side.

In the words of Associate Professor of History John Savage, Pettegrew “was a model of intellectual curiosity and scholarly rigor; as a popular and engaging teacher of undergraduate students; as a close mentor of numerous graduate students and younger faculty; and as a guide to how the discipline of history can and should be relevant to the world around us today. John taught us that there need not be any great separation between deeply reflecting on the past and rising to the challenges we face in the present; in fact, these are very much mutually beneficial pursuits.”

*This description has been adapted from John Pettegrew’s obituary, which can be located here.