Prof. Edmund S. Morgan has passed away at the rich age of 97. The New York Times describes his work:
Like his mentor and fellow atheist, the Harvard historian Perry Miller, Professor Morgan found his richest material in the religious thought of Puritan New England and endless fascination in the theological debates and spiritual struggles of men like John Winthrop, Roger Williams and Ezra Stiles.
“I think that any group of people who have a system of belief that covers practically everything, and who act upon it, are bound to be interesting to any scholar,” he said in a 1987 interview with The William and Mary Quarterly.
His elegantly written, succinct biographies and studies of early New England, respected by specialists but accessible to undergraduates, became required reading for several generations of college students.
“As a historian of colonial and revolutionary America, he was one of the giants of his generation, and a writer who could well have commanded a larger nonacademic audience than I suspect he received,” said Pauline Maier, a professor of American history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “He characteristically took on big issues and had a knack for conveying complex, sophisticated truths in a way that made them seem, if not simple, at least easily understandable.”
Professor Morgan’s book “The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop” (1958) was for decades one of the most widely assigned texts in survey courses on American history. His “Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea” (1963) showed his unmatched talent for mining primary sources to illuminate an important concept, in this case the change in understanding among New Englanders of what it meant to be the member of a church.
Prof. Morgan’s work has been hugely influential on many of us at TCI, espcially Visible Saints. Morgan’s history isn’t perfect, but he had a proficiency for finding the underlying principles, the sort that never goes out of style.
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