Kenneth J. Cmiel was a professor of history and American studies at the University of Iowa and director of the U.I. Center for Human Rights. In 1977 he received the B.A. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1986. His dissertation won the Society of American Historians' Allan Nevins Prize in 1987. He joined the U.I. faculty that same year.
His first book, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight Over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America, was based on his dissertation. At the time of his death he was writing "Ambiguous Origins: The United Nations and Human Rights" (working title), chronicling the political ideas that contributed to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.D.H.R.). Though unfinished, portions of the planned book began to emerge as articles, including "The Emergence of Human Rights Politics in the United States," which appeared in a special issue of the Journal of American History in 1999.
Mr. Cmiel served as chair of the U.I. Department of History from 2000 to 2003. In 2004 he became director of the U.I. Center for Human Rights. He was the U.I. Presidential Lecturer in 2005 and during his career won many of the University's other top research and scholarship awards.
Kenneth Cmiel was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 31, 1954, the son of Henry and Jean (Gasiorek) Cmiel. In 1980 he married Anne Duggan and they had three children. He died on February 4, 2006, at age 51, due to a previously-undetected brain tumor.