History faculty remember Peterson
Renowned University scholar leaves legacy in history department, authored books about Jefferson
Merrill Peterson, a lauded Jeffersonian scholar and former head of the University's history department, died last Wednesday at the age of 88.
Writing and editing more than 37 books during the course of his career, Peterson gained recognition and respect for his insight into the life and mind of the University's founder, Thomas Jefferson.
"For me, his most significant book will always be 'The Jefferson Image in the American Mind,' a work that defined the standard in its field," History Prof. John Stagg said. "It has had many imitators, but none have ever surpassed it."
Peterson's writing of "The Jefferson Image in the American Mind" won him the Bancroft Prize, a prize awarded to authors of distinguished works of American history, in 1961.
Peterson's academic contributions, though, are not the only aspects of his life remembered by his friends and peers.
"It would be wrong to remember him only as a scholar of Jefferson," Stagg said. "He was interested in a vast range of subjects and to each of them he brought uniquely interesting insights."
Peterson joined the Peace Corps at the age of 76. After serving in Armenia, Peterson wrote a book titled, "Starving Armenians: America and the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1930 and After."
In addition to his contributions to the University through teaching and chairing the history department, Peterson also served as the College's dean of faculty for four years.
History Prof. Charles McCurdy said Peterson was an "intellectual historian," but also praised his humility.
"[He was] the greatest historian on the Virginia faculty in the 1970s and 1980s," McCurdy said. "But he didn't act like it."
Peterson is survived by two sons, Jeffrey Peterson of Falls Church, Va., and Kent Peterson of Lenexa, Kansas, as well as a grandchild, James Peterson.