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In Memoriam

We remember in this space the passings of OAH members, friends, colleagues, and others within the profession. Please submit your announcement using this form.

William Pencak

William PencakWilliam Pencak, professor emeritus of history at Penn State University, distinguished historian of early American history, historian of Pennsylvania, and twice editor of Pennsylvania History, died December 9, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia, of cardiac failure following heart surgery. He was a member of the Organization of American Historians since 1975.

A native New Yorker, William Pencak received his BA from Columbia University in 1972, with an MA the following year and a PhD in history in 1978. The years that followed included scholarly production on a phenomenal scale. His first books, War, Politics, and Revolution in Provincial Massachusetts (1981) and America's Burke: The Mind of Thomas Hutchinson (1982), focused on New England, while his third, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919-1941 (1989) explored a twentieth-century topic for a very special reason: he wrote the book that a friend had set out to do, prior to his untimely death.

The publications that followed would reveal the polymath mind that Bill Pencak possessed. His score of single-authored or edited volumes ranged from the intricacies of early American ethnicity, culture, and conflict to film studies, opera history, and semiotics. In the last decade, much of his intellectual passion focused on the history of early American religion. His Jews and Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800 (2005) took him into the reconstruction of an oft-overlooked segment of colonial society, as well as giving him the chance to focus on his own heritage. The ideas he wrote of in that book led to new avenues to explore in the classroom. He taught classes in Jewish studies prior to his retirement from Penn State's University Park campus, and following his retirement he accepted a position as Bert and Fanny Meisler Visiting Professor of History and Jewish Studies in the Department of History at the University of South Alabama. At the same time he wrote the chronological successor volume to Jews and Gentiles, he was also working on a biography of Bishop William White, Pennsylvania's first Episcopal Bishop.

Bill Pencak's passion for Pennsylvania history was a central focus of his career. He coedited the massive Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth as much to engage in a history that fascinated him as to have the chance to work with his friend Randall Miller and numerous other friends. Service to community and commonwealth were always at the center of his life. A decades-long stalwart of the Philadelphia and McNeil Center for Early American History's Friday seminars and Zuckerman salons, he is remembered for his intense intellectual engagement of presenters as well as the sense of humor and love of good fellowship that he had there. Those characteristics combined ideally in the two periods in which he edited Pennsylvania History. He expanded its readership and scholarly focus during his first term as editor, including creating the annual Explorations in Early American Culture in partnership with the McNeil Center. In 1998, he honored me by inviting me to serve as his coeditor. Later, this work would lead to the creation of the new journal, Early American Studies, where he continued to serve as senior consulting editor until his death. While he took a few years off from journal editing to pursue other projects, he returned to helm Pennsylvania History a few years later. When news of Bill Pencak's sudden death spread throughout the academic community, stunned colleagues around the country responded with a similar statement: Bill Pencak was the first major scholar who noticed their – our – work, and he was the one who helped craft rough prose into numerous first published articles.

It is hard to sum up the warmth, the kindness, the sense of humor, and other personal attributes that were my dear friend Bill Pencak. Falstaffian in size and personality, he shared Dr. Samuel Johnson's passion for friendships, wit, and good conversation. His generosity in providing hospitality for emerging scholars was unsurpassed. He routinely drove to conferences so he could give free transportation to young members of the profession who could not afford airfare. On a personal level, we thought of him as a member of our family, and I will always remember Bill sitting on my couch, watching TLA Video VHS tapes for his The Films of Derek Jarman, assisted by our yellow Lab (he always joked she enjoyed film history, too); spreading out the illustrations for one book or another on our coffee tables and floors; sitting up to all hours discussing the history profession and its practitioners; and driving to professional meetings, listening to CDs of Julianne Baird and his other favorite opera performers. As I write this, a line Franklin used to remember one of his best friends comes to mind. He was a "Gentleman of some Fortune, generous, lively and witty, a Lover of Punning and of his Friends." Hundreds of grieving friends now mourn Bill's untimely passing.

Bill is survived by his mother, Harriet Pencak, and husband Vincent Parker. His father, only brother, and nephew preceded him in death.

George W. Boudreau, Penn State Harrisonburg

Posted: May 8, 2014
Tagged: In Memoriam


Irving Brinton Holley Jr.

Irving Brinton Holley, Jr., Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University and Major General, US Air Force (ret.), died August 12, 2013, in Durham, NC. At the time of his death he was 94 years old.

Professor Holley was a native of Torrington, Connecticut, and graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1940. He was working toward a Ph.D. at Yale University and had received the Tew Prize as Outstanding Scholar in History when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, and he enlisted in the US Army. Trained as an aerial gunner, he was commissioned at Officer Candidate School. He returned to private life as a captain after five years of active duty but remained in the US Air Force reserves until he retired in 1981 with the rank of major general, after nearly 40 years of service to his country.

He completed his Ph.D. at Yale in 1947, receiving the Townshend Prize for Best Dissertation, and then accepted a position at Duke University. Although he officially retired in 1989, he continued teaching until the age of 92, making him both the oldest and longest serving professor in Duke’s history. In 2004, Professor Holley inspired the project “Books for Baghdad,” an effort by the university community to donate scholarly books and other materials to Iraqi university libraries which had been destroyed during Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Gulf Wars. He also served on the NC Health Planning Council, the Board of Trustees of Durham Academy, and as Senior Warden at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church. He was a member of the Organization of American Historians from 1965 until 1996. 

Professor Holley’s field was American intellectual and social history with a special emphasis on the history of technology. He was the author eight books, most notably Ideas and Weapons, a study of the relationships of technology, military doctrine, and weapons development. First issued in 1953, the book has been published in four editions and is still in print. It continues as an important text for several US military staff schools and war colleges. Other books Professor Holley wrote include General John M. Palmer, Citizen Soldier, and the Army of a Democracy, and Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement for the Army Air Forces, a World War II official history for the US Army Center of Military History. More recently, at the age of 89, he published his last scholarly book, The Highway Revolution, 1895-1925: How the United States Got Out of the Mud.

Professor Holley taught and mentored several generations of PhD’s and in so doing made a major contribution to the field of military history. Widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading authorities on military doctrine, he continued to lecture on the subject long after his retirement from the university. He served as visiting professor at the US military academy at West Point, NY, and the National Defense University. He was a frequent lecturer at the Army and Air Force Staff Colleges, the Army, Navy, and Air War Colleges, and the Pentagon. He also lectured at the US Marine University, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Royal Swedish Military Staff College in Stockholm, Sweden.

Professor Holley was an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was a recipient of the Duke Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize for History for his body of contributions to the field of military history. He was awarded the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, and the Air Force’s Exceptional Service and Distinguished Service Medals, and the Air Force Legion of Merit. In 2007 he was the first recipient of an award named in his honor by the Air Force for individuals who have made a “sustained, significant contribution to the documentation of Air Force history during a lifetime of service.”

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Janet Carlson Holley, and his daughters Janet Wegner of Garrett Park, MD, Jean Schmidt of Greenville, SC, and Susan Holley of Clover, SC, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandsons. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at The Forest at Duke, 2701 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705 at 2:00 p.m. in the auditorium.

Posted: March 19, 2014
Tagged: In Memoriam


Merton L. Dillon

Merton L. Dillon, professor at Ohio State University, passed away on May 3, 2013. A member of the OAH since 1950, Dillon retired from teaching in 1991. The following remembrance of Professor Dillon was written by Hugh Davis, Professor Emeritus of History, Southern Connecticut State University.

Merton Lynn Dillon (1924-2013)

Merton Dillon, professor emeritus of history at Ohio State University and an OAH member since 1950, died on May 4, 2013, from polymyositis. During his career, he taught a broad array of courses on American history, especially antislavery, slavery, the American South, and the Civil War and Reconstruction. He also guided numerous Master's theses and doctoral dissertations in these subject areas. Merton was a model teacher-scholar who impressed upon his students the necessity of engaging in thorough research In primary and secondary sources. He insisted that his students ask hard questions of the evidence and encouraged them to write succinctly and clearly. Merton was a supportive and attentive mentor to his former students and other historians. Students were drawn to Dillon by his sterling scholarship, his carefully crafted lectures, and his exemplary values. While deeply committed to the principles of justice and equality, he never sought to impose his views on his students. He was a modest man of great integrity who lived and taught by example.

Merton was born on April 4, 1924, in Addison, Michigan. He graduated from Michigan State Normal College in 1945, and then earned his MA in 1948 and his PhD in 1951 from the University of Michigan, where he studied under Dwight Dumond. He subsequently taught at the New Mexico Military Institute (1951-1956), Texas Tech College (1956-1965), and Northern Illinois University (1965-1967), before moving to Ohio State University (1967-1991).

In his dissertation on "The Antislavery Movement in Illinois, 1809-1844," and related articles and two books, Merton reoriented antislavery scholarship away from Garrisonian abolitionism in the Northeast after 1830 and toward antislavery efforts in the West and South prior to the 1830s. His first two books—Elijah P. Lovejoy, Abolitionist Editor (1961) and Benjamin Lundy and the Struggle for Negro Freedom (1966)—reinforced that shift in orientation in antislavery historical studies.

In 1959, Dillon wrote a seminal article, "The Failure of American Abolitionists," which reflected his conviction that abolitionists "failed" because slavery was destroyed by war rather than moral arguments and political pressure. Yet he also came to acknowledge that slaves and their northern black and white allies were instrumental in pushing slavery toward extinction. Dillon most fully developed his analysis of antislavery dissent in The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority (1974), which remained a leading general study in the field for many years. His belief that slave resistance deeply influenced antislavery ideology and progressively weakened the institution of slavery formed the core argument in his Slavery Attacked: Southern Slaves and Their Allies (1990). Throughout this and other studies, he contended that individual actions and choices played a significant role in shaping history. This theme inspired the essays in a festschrift to Dillon, The Moment of Decision: Biographical Essays on American Character and Regional Identity (1994), edited by Randall M. Miller and John R. McKivigan.

Dillon also remained interested in the sources of southern thought. In his biography of an influential southern historian—Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Historian of the Old South (1985)—he re-examined the racist underpinnings of southern historical thought. Upon his retirement in 1991, Dillon bought a farm near his family in Michigan, where he continued to read history and mentor his former students and colleagues. He is survived by a sister and a brother.

—Hugh Davis, Professor Emeritus of History, Southern Connecticut State University.

More information is available at: http://www.brownvanhemert.com/obituary/Dr.-Merton-L.-Dillon-PhD/Somerset-Twp.-Jerome-MI/1204427

Posted: January 13, 2014
Tagged: In Memoriam


Robert F. Engs

Robert F. Engs passed away on January 14, 2013. He is a former visiting professor of history at William & Mary, and emeritus professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Engs joined the OAH in 1975.

More information is available at: http://www.wm.edu/news/announcements/2013/message-on-the-passing-of-robert-f.-engs.php

Posted: September 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


John K. Thomas

John Kyle Thomas, PhD, died on March 12, 2013. Born November 30, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee, Thomas was professor of history at Roane State Community College.

More information is available at: http://smithmortuary.tributes.com/show/Dr.-John-K.-Thomas-95413773

Posted: September 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Pauline Maier

Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Techonology, passed away on August 12, 2013. A life member of the Organiation of American Historians, Maier joined the organization in 1973.

More information is available at: http://s-usih.org/2013/08/pauline-maier-1938-2013.html

Posted: September 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Robert Tropea

Robert Tropea of Woburn, Massachusetts, passed away on July 25, 2013.

More information is available at: http://www.lynch-cantillon.com/Obituary?id=2948

Posted: September 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Gilbert Schuyler Bahn

Gilbert S. Bahn of Moorpark, California, died on July 3, 2013.

More information is available at: http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Gilbert-Bahn&lc=4800&pid=165682285&mid=5590920

Posted: September 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Ann J. Lane

Ann J. Lane, a pioneer in Women’s History and Women’s Studies, passed away on Memorial Day, May 27, at the age of 81. She had retired in 2009 from the University of Virginia, where she was Professor of History and director of Women’s Studies (now the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program) from 1990 to 2003.

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Posted: August 29, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Arvarh Strickland

Historian and fifty-year member of the OAH, Arvarh Strickland, died April 30, 2013 at the age of 82. Strickland made history in 1969 when he became the first African American to hold a tenure-track position at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He served with distinction in various capacities as a faculty member and chair of the Department of History; principal architect of the MU Black Studies Program; associate vice president of academic affairs, University of Missouri System; and special assistant to the MU Chancellor.

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Posted: May 13, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Nancy Bernkopf Tucker

Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Georgetown University professor and OAH Life Member, passed away in December, 2012.

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Posted: April 30, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Robert Remini

Robert Remini, former historian for the US House of Representatives, died April 1, 2013. He was 91 years old. A member of the Organization of American Historians for more than 52 years, Remini was an award-winning biographer and \"foremost Jacksonian scholar of our time.\"

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Posted: April 3, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Edward M. Bennett

Edward M. Bennett died on March 3, 2013. He taught for 33 years at Washington State University and was a member of the OAH for more than 50 years.

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Posted: March 26, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Robert H. Zieger

Robert H. Zieger, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Florida, passed away on March 6, 2013. Zieger, a fify-one-year member of the OAH, began his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1964 and moved to the University of Florida in 1986. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida, has written a remembrance of Professor Zieger for the Southern Labor Studies Association Web site.

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Posted: March 26, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Walter L. Sargent

Walter L. Sargent, University of Maine Farmington, passed away on January 27.

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Posted: March 26, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Vernon S. "Pete" Braswell

Vernon S. \"Pete\" Braswell died January 31, 2013. Braswell taught American history at Del Mar College from 1965 until 1989. He was in his fiftieth year as a member of the Organization of American Historians.

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Posted: March 26, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Remembering Gerda Lerner, a Pioneer in Women's History

Gerda Lerner, past president of the Organization of American Historians (1981-1982), and pioneer in women's and gender history, passed away on January 2, 2013 at the age of 92.

The following remembrance of Gerda Lerner was prepared by Mari Jo Buhle, and appeared in the February 2013 issue of OAH Outlook.

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Posted: January 4, 2013
Tagged: In Memoriam


Thomas K. McCraw

Thomas K. McCraw, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School (HBS), and former editor of the Business History Review, died on Saturday, November 3, 2012, following a long illness.

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Posted: December 13, 2012
Tagged: In Memoriam


Herbert Shapiro

University of Cincinnati professor emeritus Herbert Shapiro passed away on October 17, 2012. Shapiro was a member of OAH for more than forty-five years. Roger Daniels remembers \"Herb\" Shapiro, his colleague at the University of Cincinnati.

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Posted: December 12, 2012
Tagged: In Memoriam


Alfred F. Young

Northern Illinois University professor Alfred F. Young passed away Tuesday, November 6, 2012, at the age of 87. Young, a fifty year member of the OAH, was the recipient of the OAH Distinguished Service Award in 2000. Upon his retirement from NIU, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago, until 2005.

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Posted: November 7, 2012
Tagged: In Memoriam