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In Memoriam

Diane Shaver Clemens

Professor of History, Emerita

UC Berkeley

Spirited, irreverent, and deeply loyal to her students, Diane Shaver Clemens made her mark early as a diplomatic historian. Her account of the Yalta Conference was one of the first major works of diplomatic history written by a woman in the academy.  When she came to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972 as associate professor with tenure, she was the third female professor to join the Department of History, after Adrienne Koch, appointed in 1958, and Natalie Davis, in 1971. At Berkeley she continued her political engagement against militarism and on behalf of women and minorities, and devoted her energies to teaching and advising.

Born Diane Elizabeth Shaver on September 5, 1936, Clemens grew up in Wyoming, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb. She received her A.B. and B.S. in education at the University of Cincinnati in 1958, where she learned Russian and German and wrote short stories and poems. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She can be heard on a voice training audiodisc from that time explaining, in the cadences of Judy Garland, that she could not say how wide the Ohio River was because she never had reason to walk across it.

She earned her M.A. at the University of Cincinnati in 1960, writing her thesis on mid-nineteenth century German immigration to the United States. A fellowship from the German government enabled her to spend a year conducting research for the thesis in Germany. While living abroad, she made reel-to-reel tapes to send to her family describing her experiences, recording the broadcasts of Radio Moscow she could pick up in her room in Frankfurt, or reading aloud in German from the books she found most interesting, such as Czeslaw Milosz’s anti-Stalinist study, The Captive Mind. She also developed her love of opera, art, food, and wine. Addressing her brother on one of these tapes, she advised him to ignore the opinions of his fraternity brothers: “Remember, Jerry, it’s not important what others think of us, it’s important what we think of ourselves.”

Clemens enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a student of Alexander DeConde, noted historian of U.S. foreign relations. She earned her Ph.D. in 1966 with a dissertation on the Yalta Conference of 1945. When the revised version was published by Oxford University Press in 1970 with the one-word title Yalta, it constituted the most detailed study to date of the negotiations, and one of the first to make use of Russian sources. She depicted Yalta as neither the site of a craven surrender by an enfeebled Franklin Roosevelt nor of the triumph of a wily Joseph Stalin, but the scene of traditional negotiations by great powers seeking to establish a stable postwar world. All three major powers present persuaded the others to make concessions, she argued. The British obtained the backing of the United States and the Soviet Union for their desire to see France rehabilitated and included in the occupation of Germany. The Soviet Union received tacit Western acceptance of a pro-Soviet regime in Poland. And the United States won support for Roosevelt’s plan for managing the postwar order through the United Nations Security Council. The “spirit of Yalta,” Clemens wrote, provided a model of cooperation that offered a viable alternative to the confrontation of the Cold War. The demise of that spirit she laid at the feet of Harry Truman.

Reviewers’ reactions showed that the legacy of the conference remained fiercely contested. Forrest Pogue, a former U.S. Army Historian, called it a “case for the Soviet Union.” “She has falsified history,” exclaimed a reviewer who misspelled her name. Athan Theoharis, a critic of McCarthyism, found the book “judicious, nonpartisan, and non-nationalistic…Yalta firmly establishes Mrs. Clemens as a brilliant student of international politics, and a prominent contributor to the now-emerging ‘revisionist’ interpretation of the origins of the Cold War.” Robert Schulzinger, a centrist in the diplomatic history feud between establishment orthodoxy and left-wing revisionism, was not persuaded by her argument, but acknowledged that “Clemens’ labeling of [Stalin] as a realist is a useful corrective to those cold warriors who saw him only or primarily as a leader of a revolutionary regime.” The English revisionist AJP Taylor wrote that, “Professor Clemens provides a breath of cool fresh air after the stuffy rhetoric of the politicians. Her book is the first to analyze the negotiations at Yalta in a detached way and is an outstanding contribution to historical scholarship.” The New York Times judged her reputation sufficiently established by the book to invite her to review Gaddis Smith’s 1972 biography of Dean Acheson.

Her only other peer-reviewed publication was a lengthy journal article, “Averell Harriman, John Deane, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the ‘Reversal of Co-operation’ with the Soviet Union in April 1945,” published in International History Review in 1992. It continued her argument about the turn from Allied wartime cooperation to Cold War conflict, emphasizing the role U.S. Ambassador W. Averell Harriman played in persuading top U.S. military officials to think of the Soviet Union as an adversary. As a result, Clemens argued, within weeks of Truman’s ascent to the presidency, Harriman made his views prevail over those who had hoped to continue Roosevelt’s policy of cooperation into the postwar era.

Clemens began her teaching career with stints at Santa Barbara City College and Boston University, then taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1966 to 1972. At MIT she participated in activism for civil rights and against the Vietnam War alongside Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg. At Berkeley she continued her advocacy work, serving on the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate’s Committee on the Status of Women and Minorities (1973-75, the last year as co-chair) and as Faculty Assistant to the Chancellor on the Status of Women under the Title IX program. She also gave public talks on civil liberties and academic freedom. She supported her students’ unionization efforts in the Association of Graduate Student Employees and their demonstrations urging the university system to divest its funds from the apartheid regime in South Africa. At the same time, she urged her students not to neglect making progress on their dissertations, reminding them that “if the struggle to make history was important, so was writing it.”

Clemens was an early adopter of web-based technologies, serving on the editorial board of the discussion list H-Diplo, and assembling a large trove of primary sources and images for her undergraduate courses on U.S. history and foreign relations. McGraw-Hill published some of these in The Forging of America: 1492-1904, A Cultural Diversity Reader (1993), edited with her second husband, Richard Francis Allen. Her graduate students fondly recall her lively interest in their work and close engagement in their early careers, from lobbying her contacts to help them obtain teaching positions to chatting up publishers to help them land book contracts. Evening seminars at her house in the Berkeley Hills, fueled by Allen’s famous chili, often ended after midnight. The couple’s friendships with her graduate students extended to theater outings and trips to Turkey and Hawaii.

When she retired in 2006, her students gave her a send-off dinner and a large oil painting of a seascape at Yalta. She and Allen hung it in the house overlooking the San Francisco Bay where they spent their last years together convalescing at home. Allen died in 2014, and Clemens on May 18, 2016.

She was survived by her daughter Iolani, her grandchildren Rose Paoletti (Todd), Olivia Clemens, and Julian Clemens; great-grandchildren Benjamin and Julia Paoletti; stepchildren Hervey (Paula) and Katharine Allen; step-grandchildren Anna and Jordan Herbst, Francisca Allen, and Zahara Finder; and her first husband, Walter Clemens. 

David A. Hollinger
Max Paul Friedman