Otis A. Pease

Richard S. Kirkendall, April 2011

Otis A. PeaseHonorary life member of the AHA; World War II veteran

On September 6, 2010, the history department of the University of Washington and the American historical profession lost a great colleague. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on July 31, 1925,* Otis Pease was educated at Eaglebrook School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and in a summer program at Yale in 1943 before World War II took control of his life. Volunteering for a special Army program that summer, he became a rifleman and was wounded inside Germany during November 1944, his first month of combat. After three months of hospitalization, he spent the rest of the war in intelligence at an Eighth Air Force base, and before heading for home in January 1946, he was not only a soldier but also enjoyed the music, films, church services, intellectual life, and social life that England offered. The war, in short, was a powerful force in his life.

  Back home, Pease resumed his studies at Yale and continued there until he completed his doctoral work in 1954. Embarking on an academic career, he stopped first at the University of Texas for two years, Washington for a year, and then Stanford for a decade before settling down at the University of Washington in 1966. (He maintained a strong tie with Stanford, however, serving as an active member of its Board of Trustees for 16 years.) In Seattle, he was a good academic citizen, and his services included a five-year term as chair of the history department. His participation in the national historical profession included committee work in the Organization of American Historians and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, and a three-year term as a vice president of the AHA’s Professional Division.

Otis Pease was a great teacher on all levels, from introductory courses to the direction of an impressive number of doctoral dissertations. He was a creative teacher who employed his musical talents to back up his historian’s skills. One of his creations was a highly successful course, open to students across the campus, on the United States since 1940. It was designed to show students that their present had come out of the recent past—the years of their parents and grandparents—and one episode in that past, World War II, was an event of gigantic proportions with a long shadow.

His best-known book, The Responsibilities of American Advertising: Private Control and Public Influence, 1920–40 (1958), served all of us who taught the recent history of the U.S. in the 1960s. His last one came out two years ago. He called it Blueberry Pie: The Meaning of WWII for the Americans Who Fought in It. It consists in large part of his rich war diary, challenges the idea that the war had only a narrowly limited meaning for the troops, and reveals that the boy who wrote the diary was already an unusually interesting person.

—Richard S. Kirkendall
University of Washington

*The print version contained the wrong birth and death dates for Otis Pease; we regret this error.