Peter Novick dies at 77

Historians in the News

Peter Novick, a University of Chicago historian whose specialty was the study of history itself, or historiography, died Feb. 17 at the age of 77. Novick, professor emeritus of history, used his formidable skills to explain how different views of the past can shape the retelling of history and establish narratives that have a power of their own.

Early success suggests Novick might have had a career as an historian of 20th-century France. His Columbia University doctoral thesis, awarded the Clark M. Ansley Award, was published in 1968 as The Resistance Versus Vichy: The Purge of Collaborators in Liberated France. In response to a vigorous national debate about the role of Vichy in wartime France, the book was translated and published in 1985 as L’Epuration Française, 1944-1949, a popular “Le Grand Livre du Mois” book club selection.  

But Novick’s interest in how the past is talked, thought and written about led to the two landmark books that followed: That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (1988) and The Holocaust in American Life (1999).

That Noble Dream dissected and deflated the ‘myth,’ as Peter called it, of scientific objectivity that had legitimated the institutionalization of history in the American university from the late 19th century on,” said his colleague Jan Goldstein, the Norman and Edna Freehling Professor in History at UChicago....

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