Peterson, Merrill D. 1921–
Peterson, Merrill D. 1921–
(Merrill Daniel Peterson)
Born March 31, 1921, in Manhattan, KS; son of William Oscar (a minister) and Alice Peterson; married Jean Humphrey, May 24, 1944 (deceased, 1995); children: Jeffrey, Kent. Education: Attended Kansas State College (now University), 1939-41; University of Kansas, A.B., 1943; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1950. Hobbies and other interests: American painting (both historical and contemporary) and wood engraving; photography.
Historian, educator, and writer. Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 1949-55, began as instructor, became assistant professor; Princeton University, NJ, assistant professor and Bicentennial Preceptor in History, 1955-58; Brandeis University, 1958-62, began as associate professor, became professor of history and chairman of School of Social Science; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, 1962-87, professor emeritus, 1987—, chairman of department, 1966-72, dean of faculty, 1981-85; Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History, University College Dublin, 1988-89. Poynter fellow, Indiana University, 1975; lecturer at Mercer University, 1975, Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1975, Louisiana State University, Fleming Lectures, 1980. Chairperson and executive director of Thomas Jefferson Commemoration Commission, 1993-94. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-46; became lieutenant junior grade.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Historical Association, Society of American Historians (fellow), American Antiquarian Society, Virginia Historical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, Phi Beta Kappa.
Bancroft Prize, Columbia University, and Gold Medal of the Jefferson Memorial Association, both 1960, both for The Jefferson Image inthe American Mind; Guggenheim fellowship, 1962-63; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences fellowship, 1968-69; L.H.D., Washington College, 1976; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow and National Humanities Center fellow, both 1980-81; L.D., Marietta College, 1982; Phi Beta Kappa Book Award, 1994; Virginia Foundation for Humanities 20th Anniversary Award, 1994; Virginia Foundation for Humanities 20th Anniversary Award, 1994; Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1995, for Lincoln in American Memory; National First Freedom Award, Freedom Council, 1997; Lifetime Achievement Award, Library of Virginia, 2005.
(Editor, with Leonard Levy) Major Crises in American History, two volumes, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1962.
(Editor) Democracy, Liberty and Property: State Constitutional Convention Debates of the 1820s, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1966.
Thomas Jefferson: A Profile, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1967.
Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1970.
James Madison: A Biography in His Own Words, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.
(Editor) The Portable Thomas Jefferson, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.
Adams and Jefferson: A Revolutionary Dialogue, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1976.
Olive Branch and Sword: The Compromise of 1833, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1981.
(Editor) Thomas Jefferson: Writings, Library of America (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor) Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984.
The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor, with Robert Vaughan) The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: Its Evolution and Consequences in American History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor) Visitors to Monticello, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1989.
(Editor) The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (Charlottesville VA), 1993.
Lincoln in American Memory, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Jefferson Memorial: An Essay, U.S. Department of the Interior (Washington, DC), 1998.
Coming of Age with the New Republic, 1938-1950, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1999.
"Starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2004.
Contributor to scholarly journals.
Merrill D. Peterson once told CA: "I became interested in American history as I was reaching for intellectual maturity at the time of the Second World War. Actually it was less an interest in history than in what American thought and experience could contribute to an understanding of American democracy and its future. Perhaps I was involved in my own ‘search for a usable past,’ though the concept was as yet unknown to me. Vernon L. Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought was an important influence, while the works of Lewis Mumford opened exciting vistas, quite beyond Marx, for the study of American society and culture. Such reading steered me into the special program in the History of American Civilization at Harvard. There Perry Miller was most influential, for he added the scholarly discipline of the history of ideas without in any way diminishing my intellectual fascination with the subject or my deeper moral commitment. It was probably inevitable that I should, having learned the methods of a Miller, return to the quest of a Parrington; and so it is that my work has focused on Jefferson and the career of American democracy. In recent years I have followed my biographical bent with studies of the second generation of American statesmen and of Lincoln's career in American thought and imagination."
New York Times Book Review contributor Henry Steele Commager called Thomas Jefferson: Writings, edited by Peterson, "the largest and most skillfully edited single-volume of Jefferson ever published, one that contains almost three times the documents and letters in the Portable Thomas Jefferson Mr. Peterson gave us a decade ago."
Peterson gained widespread recognition with his first book The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, which focused on the posthumous reputation of this American founding father. John A Woods, writing in the English Historical Review, referred to the book as "remarkable." American Literature contributor Merle Curti called it "a major contribution to American intellectual history." Nearly a decade later, Peterson wrote Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography, which Political Science Quarterly contributor Jacob E. Cooke wrote is "characterized by … interpretive balance and narrative skill."
Olive Branch and Sword: The Compromise of 1833 focuses on the political maneuverings that brought about the Compromise of 1833, which resolved a crisis of the Union caused by South Carolina's nullification of the protective tariff. Richard B. Latner, writing in the Journal of Southern History, called the book "a detailed explanation of the background, formulation and consequences of the compromise as well as a case study in the art of political compromise." Journal of Economic History contributor Sidney Ratner noted that the book "brings to the attention of economic historians the human elements in all the economic transactions and some of their unanticipated consequences."
Peterson writes about three legendary politicians, orators, and writers in The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. Commenting in the New England Quarterly, Irving H. Bartlett noted that the author "has given us a big book on national politics from 1812 to 1852, focused on the three major players of the period who dominated the ‘second generation of American statesmanship.’" Journal of American History contributor Michael J. Birkner called The Great Triumvirate "absorbing reading" and noted that "a broad lay readership will relish" the book.
In Lincoln in American Memory, the author "traces in rich, learned detail the efforts of six generations of Americans to get right with Lincoln." as noted by Geoffrey C. Ward in American Heritage. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "With insightful detail, University of Virginia historian Peterson … richly catalogues the resounding image, for scholars and civil society alike, of the martyred president." Phillip Shaw Paludan, writing in the Historian, commented that the book's "strength is its broad sweep." Paludan went on to note: "Memory can be evoked through books of course, but it also can be called forth by poetry, dreams, statues, paintings, advertising, and music," adding: "Peterson's cast includes all these."
John Brown: The Legend Revisited "trace[s] Brown's myth by combing the substantial iconography and bibliography, both scholarly and popular, accrued since his death in 1859," according to William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek writing in the Journal of Southern History. In a review in the Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, Mark Wahlgren Summers commented that the book "fills a need, as its namesake certainly does, and its focus is narrow, sharp, and clear."
The author was inspired to write "Starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After after spending time in Armenia at the age of seventy-six as part of the Peace Corps. Simon Payaslian, writing in the Middle East Journal, noted: "Peterson altogether ignores US policy in the 19th century, limiting his discussion to the American missionaries and humanitarian response to the massacres in the 1890s."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Heritage, February-March, 1995, Geoffrey C. Ward, review of Lincoln in American Memory, p. 14.
American Historical Review, February, 1983, William W. Freehling, review of Olive Branch and Sword: The Compromise of 1833, p. 182.
American Literature, January, 1961, Merle Curti, review of The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, pp. 469-470.
American Quarterly, summer, 1961, Emory G. Evans, review of The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, p. 200.
English Historical Review, April, 1972, John A. Woods, review of The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, p. 435.
Historian, winter, 1994, Phillip Shaw Paludan, review of Lincoln in American Memory, p. 393.
Journal of American History, March, 1978, Stephen G. Kurtz, review of Adams and Jefferson, p. 1089; March, 1983, Harry L. Watson, review of Olive Branch and Sword, pp. 967-968; December, 1988, Michael J. Birkner, review of The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, pp. 959-962; June, 2005, Keith Pomakoy, review of "Starving Armenians": America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After, p. 261.
Journal of Economic History, December, 1982, Sidney Ratner, review of Olive Branch and Sword, pp. 946-947.
Journal of Southern History, May, 1971, review of Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, pp. 288-290; February, 1983, Richard B. Latner, review of Olive Branch and Sword, pp. 120-121; May, 2004, William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, review of John Brown, p. 435.
Middle East Journal, winter, 2005, Simon Payaslian, review of Starving Armenians, p. 132.
New England Quarterly, September, 1988, Irving H. Bartlett, review of The Great Triumvirate, pp. 455-456.
New York Times Book Review, July 7, 1985, Henry Steele Commager, review of Thomas Jefferson: Writings, p. 19.
New York Times, November 8, 1987, Donald B. Cole, review of The Great Triumvirate; June 26, 1994, David S. Reynolds, review of Lincoln in American Memory.
Political Science Quarterly, June, 1972, Jacob E. Cooke, review of Thomas Jefferson and the Nation, pp. 324-325.
Publishers Weekly, March 7, 1994, review of Lincoln in the American Memory, p. 58.
Reviews in American History, September, 1988, John Ashworth, review of The Great Triumvirate, pp.385-389.
Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, Volume 110, issue 4, 2002, Mark Wahlgren Summers, review of John Brown: The Legend Revisited, p. 49.
Inside UVA Online,http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/ (December 11, 2006), "Peterson Wins Lifetime Achievement Award."