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Popkin (Richard H.) Papers
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Collection Details
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  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
    Title: Richard H. Popkin papers
    creator: Popkin, Richard H. (Richard Henry)
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.2005.006
    Physical Description: 50 Linear Feet 50 boxes
    Date (inclusive): 1949-2005
    Abstract: Richard H. Popkin was an influential historian of philosophy. His 1960 work "The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes" introduced many historians to a previously unrecognised influence on Western thought in the seventeenth century, the Pyrrhonian Scepticism of Sextus Empiricus. Popkin was also an internationally acclaimed scholar on Jewish and Christian millenarianism and messianism. The collection includes over six decades of Popkin’s academic papers and correspondence, as well as his library of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century rare books.
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
    Language of Material: Materials primarily in English, but also contains materials in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Latin and Hebrew.


    Open for research. STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library for paging information.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. For permission for publication, contact the copyright holder.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Richard H. Popkin Papers (MS.2005.006) William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of Julie and Jeremy Popkin, 2005.

    Processing History

    The Clark Library received Richard H. Popkin's papers from his wife, Julie Popkin, in 2005. Patrick Keilty processed Series 3, Research Notes, in November 2006. The research notes are described at the item level and are arranged alphabetically.
    The other collection series were processed by Gloria Gonzalez during 2012-2013.The original order of material in those series is as received from the donor. The collection was rehoused for preservation purposes, and arranged in chronological order. All folders retain Richard H. Popkin's original titles.
    In 2014, as a part of a postdoctoral fellowship at the Clark Library and the ERC Grant Agreement “Conversion, Overlapping Religiosities, Polemics and Interaction: Early Modern Iberia and Beyond” (GA 323316-CORPI), Carlos Cañete created an in-depth listing of the contents of boxes 1-32. This material was added to the existing finding aid in 2016.


    Richard H. Popkin (December 27, 1923 – April 14, 2005) was a philosopher who specialized in the history of early modern anti-dogmatism and enlightenment philosophy. He was born in Manhattan to Louis and Zelda Popkin, who jointly ran a small public relations firm. Popkin earned his Bachelor's degree at Colombia University, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1950. During his career Popkin taught at Iowa State University, the University of Connecticut, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of California, Los Angeles. He served as the founding chair of the philosophy department at University of California, San Diego and twice as the Clark Library Professor at UCLA in 1981-82 and 1997-98. He was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, Brandeis, Duke, Emory, and Tel Aviv universities, as well as Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York. Popkin was also the founding director of the International Archives of the History of Ideas and the first editor and president emeritus of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.
    Popkin is credited with bringing attention to the sceptical crisis in early modern Europe, and the role the revival and reformulation of classical scepticism played in shaping modern philosophy. His most notable work, the History of Scepticism From Erasmus to Descartes (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1960) introduced a previously unrecognized influence on Western thought in the seventeenth century: the Pyrrhonian Scepticism of the ancient Greek physician and philosopher Sextus Empiricus. Popkin continued to change the understanding of seventeenth century science and philosophy through demonstrating the impact of ancient Greek sceptical arguments about the impossibility of knowing the world and God in subsequent History of Scepticism editions, including studies From Erasmus to Spinoza (University of California Press, 1979) and From Savonarola to Bayle (Oxford University Press, 2003).
    Popkin was also an internationally acclaimed scholar on Jewish and Christian millenarianism and messianism, and made scholars cognizant of the concepts as key factors in seventeenth century thought. In his many publications, which include The High Road to Pyrrhonism edited by Richard Watson and James Force (Austin Hill Press, 1980); The Third Force in SeventeenthCentury Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1992); and Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium written with David S. Katz (Hill and Wang, 2000), Popkin’s approach created new perspectives on both little-known figures, such as the French millenarian Isaac la Peyrère, and on major figures, specifically Spinoza and Newton. Of particular importance is the major role Popkin played in generating interest in Newton's legacy of non-scientific manuscripts. The Newton Project, a program based at Imperial College, London and Cambridge dedicated to publishing full online editions of Newton manuscripts, owes much to Popkin’s early initiatives in the digital humanities at UCLA.
    Among his many honors, Popkin was awarded the Nicholas Murray Butler Medal by Columbia University and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was president emeritus and founding editor of the "Journal of the History of Philosophy." His many books include "The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza," "The Third Force in SeventeenthCentury Thought;" "Introduction to Philosophy" (with Avrum Stroll); "The High Road to Pyrrhonism;" and "Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium" (with David S. Katz). He was editor and translator of selections from "Pierre Bayle's Historical and Cultural Dictionary" and edited the 1999 "Columbia History of Western Philosophy." Beyond his philosophical works, he is also noted for writing "The Second Oswald" in 1966, an early work questioning the lone gunman explanation of the John F. Kennedy assassination. As a researcher, Popkin shared four decades of involvement with the Clark Library, where he served as Clark Professor from 1981-81 and 1997-98 and led the development of the Clark lecture series on millenarianism and messianism.
    Popkin spent his later years living in Pacific Palisades, California, with his wife, Julie Popkin, nèe Greenstone (b. 1924), whom he married in 1944. They had three children, Margaret Popkin (who died in May, 2005), Jeremy Popkin (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky), and Susan Popkin. Richard Popkin died of emphysema in Los Angeles in April of 2005.

    Scope and Content

    Consists of correspondence, manuscripts, and notes of Richard H. Popkin from the years at the end of his graduate studies until his death in 2005. The bulk of the collection contains Popkin’s personal academic research files that include hand written and typed notes, letters, news articles, scholarly publications and manuscripts in addition to other documents. The collection also includes Popkin’s library of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century rare books, which are cataloged and accessible through the UCLA Library Catalog.


    The following finding aid is organized into 4 series:
    • Series 1. Academic Files
    • Series 2. Off-prints
    • Series 3. Research Notes
    • Series 4. Multimedia Materials

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Skepticism -- History