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George A. Kennedy | William S. Powell, "The First State University"
George A. Kennedy | William S. Powell, “The First State University”

George A. Kennedy (b. 1928) received his PhD in Classics from Harvard University in 1954 with a dissertation entitled Prolegomena and Commentary to Quintilian VIII (Pr. & 1-3). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964.  In 1966, he was appointed as Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was to have a highly distinguished career as a teacher, scholar, and administrator.  He was named Paddison Professor of Classics in 1973 and retired in 1995.

Kennedy is an internationally recognized authority on the Graeco-Roman rhetorical tradition.  He had laid the foundations of his reputation before coming to UNC, having published a series of articles and his first book, The Art of Persuasion in Greece (Princeton University Press, 1963), inaugurating what was to become a three-volume history of ancient rhetoric.  The series continued with The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World (Princeton, 1972; awarded the Goodwin Award by the American Philological Association in 1975) and Greek Rhetoric under Christian Emperors (Princeton, 1983), and was summed up in A New History of Classical Rhetoric (Princeton, 1994).  In other works he extended the disciplinary boundaries of the study of ancient rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (UNC Press, 1980; 2nd ed. 1999), New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism (UNC Press, 1984), and Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-Cultural Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1998).  The second of these books helped spark an interest in the rhetorical criticism of the New Testament that continues to this day.  He also published an annotated translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 1991; 2nd ed. 2007) and edited the first volume of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (1989).  In addition to his own extensive program of research, Kennedy served for six years as one of the editors of L’Année Philologique, which at the time had its American office at UNC.  Kennedy has continued his research career throughout his retirement, although his focus has shifted more to modern and especially French literature.

Kennedy’s teaching reflected his wide range of interests, encompassing Classics, comparative literature, and rhetoric.  He won a Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  He was a much sought-out graduate supervisor and mentor, and during his years at UNC, supervised some sixteen MA theses and twenty-four PhD dissertations on a wide range of topics.  Among his PhD students were Ian McDonald, Cecil Wooten, James May, Christopher Craig, Edwin Carawan, Sheila Murnaghan, Ronald Begley, and Terry Papillon.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, Kennedy served as Chair of the Department of Classics from 1966 to 1976, as Chair of the Faculty Council from 1985 until 1988, and as Chair of the Board of Governors of the UNC Press.  In 1983 the University awarded him the Thomas Jefferson Award, presented annually to “that member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing, and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson.”  Outside Chapel Hill, he served as president both of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric and of the American Philological Association (1979).  He served as editor of the American Journal of Philology for eight years (1989-1996), taking over at a time when the journal was caught up in a controversy over its editorial policy and helping resolve the conflict; he was afterwards named Honorary Editor of the journal.  President Carter appointed him to the National Humanities Council, on which he served a six-year term.  He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.