Historian Michael G. Kammen began his career steeped in colonial America. But the era quickly proved too intellectually confining for a man who over the course of a prolific career examined such diverse topics as controversies over public art and the reburials of famous Americans.

“He was just interested in everything. You never knew when you sat down with him what he would bring up,” said fellow Cornell University historian Walter LaFeber.

A Pulitzer Prize winner who explored the conflicting strains of American culture with irony and an appreciation of the quirky, Kammen died Nov. 29 in Ithaca, N.Y., said a spokesman for Cornell, where Kammen taught for more than four decades. He was 77 and had been in failing health.

The author or editor of more than three dozen books, Kammen was awarded the 1973 Pulitzer Prize in history for “People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization.” His 1986 book “A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture” earned him the Francis Parkman Prize and the Henry Adams Prize.

“He picked topics that were daunting in their own way,” said Richard Polenberg, who, like LaFeber, is an emeritus professor of history at Cornell and was a longtime colleague of Kammen’s.

“His productivity was sort of beyond belief,” Polenberg said. “He didn’t stop. He’d write one book and before it was published, he was working on another.”

Not one to retreat to the library, Kammen lectured internationally and was known for his sometimes wicked sense of humor. “He could see the humorous and quirky aspects of life and people,” including himself, Polenberg said.

Kammen was born Oct. 25, 1936, in Rochester, N.Y., and grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. He received his undergraduate degree in history from George Washington University and earned his doctorate at Harvard University, where he studied early American history with Bernard Bailyn.

Cornell hired him as an assistant professor of history in 1965. He later chaired the history department before retiring in 2008. He also served a term as president of the Organization of American Historians.

He is survived by his wife, Cornell historian Carol Kammen; sons Daniel of Oakland, Calif., and Douglas of Singapore; three grandchildren and a sister, Edith Kessler, who lives in the Boston area.

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