Intended for healthcare professionals


David A Hamburg: psychiatrist, researcher, and humanitarian who sought to prevent global violence

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 10 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2247
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg, Germany
  1. ns{at}
Carnegie Corporation New York

In 1975 David A Hamburg, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University in California, was confronted with a life or death crisis that would change the course of his life. At the time 49 years old, Hamburg was highly regarded for his pioneering research into stress and anxiety as well the biology of mental illness.

The crisis—the kidnapping of four of his students in Africa—caused Hamburg to rethink his life. He decided to change his focus and use his medical background to help shape global policy towards prevention of hatred, violence, and human suffering—or, as he once put it, “the prevention of rotten outcomes.”

In 1982, seven years after the crisis, Hamburg was appointed president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the influential philanthropic foundation established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911.

“I feel I have been building toward this all my life,” Hamburg told the New York Times at the time.1

Hamburg was Carnegie president until 1997, when he stepped down at the age of 72; he served as president emeritus for the rest of his life. Under Hamburg’s leadership, the Carnegie Corporation intensified its efforts to tackle critical societal challenges in education, health, scientific advancement, and international peace and security.

“David Hamburg was a respected scholar and a visionary leader who left a rich legacy of promoting peace, democracy, child and adolescent development, and education for all,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of the foundation.

In 1996 Hamburg was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour. In a ceremony at the White House, Bill Clinton, the president at the time, said: “Physician, scientist, and educator, David Hamburg has devoted his life to understanding human behaviour, preventing violent conflict, and improving the health and wellbeing of our children.”

A changed man

Hamburg’s life changing crisis began in …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription