William L. Langer

Langer headshot
Born in South Boston, Massachusetts, the second of three sons of recent German immigrants, William Leonard Langer (1896-1977) attended the Boston Latin School and Harvard University. He taught German at the Worcester Academy while studying international relations at Clark University, and enlisted in the US Army during World War I, serving in a chemical weapons unit in France. After receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1922, Langer taught modern European history at Clark University for four years before becoming an assistant professor at Harvard where he became the first Coolidge Professor of History in 1936, a chair he held until his retirement in 1964. He is remembered for his courses on the history of modern Europe and the Ottoman Empire. He also taught and lectured in history at Columbia, the University of Chicago, Yale and at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. With other scholars, Langer completely revised Karl Ploetz’s Epitome of History during the 1930s. That massive work was published in 1940 under the title An Encyclopedia of World History; its 6th edition appeared in 2001.

During World War II, Langer served in the new Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as deputy chief and later chief of the Research and Analysis Branch. He was Secretary of State James Byrnes’s special assistant for intelligence analysis. After the war, Langer returned to academia, but in 1950 he organized the newly established CIA office of National Estimates and he served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1961 until 1977.

President Truman awarded Langer the Medal for Merit in July 1946 in recognition of his wartime service. Langer received the
Bancroft Prize in 1954. Langer served as president of the American Historical Association in 1957 and received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1965.

Langer’s books include
The Franco-Russian Alliance (1927), European Alliances and Alignments (1931), The Rise of Modern Europe (1934), The Diplomacy of Imperialism (1935), Our Vichy Gamble (1947) and his autobiography In and Out of the Ivory Tower (1977).

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