Obituary: William Goetzmann, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian

William Goetzmann, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Born: 20 July, 1930, in Washington. Died: 7 September, 2010, in Austin, Texas, aged 80.

IN A Pulitzer Prize-winning book William Goetzmann overturned the idea of the push into the American West in the 19th century as a series of random thrusts into the hinterland, finding instead that it was a far more systematic effort.

Goetzmann's book Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West" (Knopf, 1966) synthesised a vast repository of diaries, reports, monographs and studies in presenting a comprehensive picture of what he called the American government's "programmed" information gathering.

For example, he wrote, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were instructed to collect data not only on transportation routes and trapping grounds in their epic expedition but also on Indian tribes and available natural resources that might affect future settlement.

The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1967 as well as the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians.

At the University of Texas, where he began teaching in 1964 and directed the American studies programme until 1980, Goetzmann made it his mission to open up the study of American history to blacks, women and Hispanics.

In the late 1960s, as chairman of the history department, he invited outside experts to speak on black history and appointed the university's first black faculty members in the liberal arts. He also established the university's first courses in women's studies and Hispanic-American studies.

William Henry Goetzmann was born on 20 July, 1930, in Washington, and grew up in St Paul and Houston. At Yale, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1957 and taught from 1955 to 1964, his interest in the history of the West was sparked by the historian Howard Lamar. His dissertation was published in 1959 under the title Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863.