Paul Boyer, 1935–2012, Historian of the United States, Recipient of the Dunning Prize

Historians in the News

Paul Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History, emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, passed away on March 17, 2012. A scholar of tremendous range and curiosity, he traversed virtually the entire chronology of American history, writing about subjects as diverse as colonial political rhetoric and the Branch Davidians. His books dealt most centrally with intellectual, cultural and religious reactions to social dislocation and perceived moral decay: the Salem witch panic of 1692 (Salem Possessed, co-authored with Stephen Nissenbaum, 1974); 19th- and 20th-century movements to fight vice, whether by conforming city dwellers' mores and behavior to reformers' moral visions (Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920, 1978) or by bowdlerizing texts (Purity in Print, 1968, 2nd ed., 2002); and post-1945 confrontations with the possibility of mass extinction, whether from nuclear annihilation (By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, 1985) or the Apocalypse (When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, 1992). Awarded the American Historical Association's Dunning Prize, Salem Possessed transformed the study of New England witchcraft, but Boyer's oeuvre overall is distinguished less for its argumentative precocity than for its meticulous research, attention to nuance, the integrity of its interpretations, and an abiding concern with the effects of moral judgments both in and on history....

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