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Howard H. Peckham
LSA Minutes


Howard H. Peckham, age 84, former Director of the Clements Library,University of Michigan, authority on rare Americana, historian of colonial and revolutionary America, died July 6, in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he had lived since his retirement in 1977.

A native of Lowell, Michigan, Peckham was an alumnus of the University of Michigan (B.A. 1931, M.A. 1933). When asked about his long association with the Clements Library, Peckham recalled how he first discovered it in 1929 as a student reporter for the Michigan Daily. Director Randolph G. Adams was faced with the diplomatic problem of balancing access to the library for faculty and students with the need to protect its rare materials. Adams welcomed the young reporter. "He supplied me with stories about the library and its contents," Peckham remembered. "He was a dynamic personality, attracting and repelling." When Peckham joined the library staff in 1935, having worked as a journalist for the Grand Rapids Press, Adams became his mentor in collecting rare Americana.

Peckham was manuscript curator from 1935 to 1945, exciting years when the Clements Library was acquiring collections that made its international reputation as a center for the study of British Colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Peckham collaborated with Carl Van Doren on his Pulitzer Prize winning Secret History of the American Revolution (1941), editing documents from the Clinton Papers that reveal Benedict Arnold's treason.

In 1945, Peckham became director of Indiana's State Historical Bureau, administering its publication and educational programs, and secretary of the Indiana Historical Society, where he developed its collection of rare books, manuscripts, and maps relating to the history of the Old Northwest Territory.

Peckham returned to Ann Arbor in 1953, after the death of Randolph Adams. As the Clements Library's second director, Peckham greatly expanded the library's holdings, adding depth to its colonial and revolutionarycollections, acquiring important manuscripts for the early National, Ante Bellum and Civil War periods. Building on William Clements' original gift to the University of Michigan, Peckham created an outstanding research libraryfor the study of early American history.

Howard Peckham produced informed and readable histories of the colonial wars, the American Revolutionary War, the state of Indiana, and the University of Michigan. He was a founder and contributor to American Heritage and president of the American Association for State and Local History. His work had scholarly influence. Long before the study of native American peoplesbecame the academic industry that it is today, Princeton University Press in 1947 published Peckham's reconsideration of the great war of 1763-64, which had been defined for Americans by the 19th-century historian, Francis Parkman, as "The Conspiracy of Pontiac." Similarly, a deceptive little reference work, produced by Peckham for the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, has had important scholarly impact. In The Toll of Independence (1974) Peckham meticulously counted American wartime casualties; when combined with a careful estimate of American deaths as British prisoners of war, the total military
deaths for the Revolutionary War turned out to be far higher than previously believed, to about 25,OOO--a serious loss for a population of less than three million people.

Howard Peckham is remembered by his colleagues and generations of scholars who first came to the Clements Library as graduate students working on doctoral dissertations, as a kind and generous man, whose courtly manner often enhanced his dry wit. As a historian and collector of rare Americana, Howard Peckham's imprint continues to be felt at the University of Michigan and the Clements Library where the work he so believed in is carried on.

Howard Peckham is survived by his wife Dorothy Koth Peckham, a son StephenPeckham of Lexington, Kentucky, a daughter Angela Hewitt of Philadelphia, and three grandchildren.

Maris Vinovskis
Chair, Department of History