Philip L. Kintner (1926–2012)
D. A. Smith and Merry Wiesner-Hanks, April 2012
Historian of Early Modern Germany and Inspiring Teacher
Philip L. Kintner, professor emeritus of history in Grinnell College, died on Sunday, January 1, 2012, in Grinnell, Iowa. While at Grinnell, he taught medieval and early modern history, as well as historiography, to several generations of students, and inspired a number of them to go further with studies in history, German studies, and related fields. Students who sat in his class and seminar rooms remember him as a born teacher, with the gifts of patience, sympathy, understanding, and concern for clarity in thought and writing.
Kintner was born in Canton, Ohio, on January 23, 1926. His education was interrupted by service in the European theater of the Second World War as a technician fifth class in the 102nd Recon Mechanized Cavalry. He was awarded the ETO medal with two Bronze Stars, and after the end of the war he continued as a radio operator with the American forces that had liberated Plzen, Czechoslovakia. He returned home to Ohio in 1946, and received his BA with honors in history from the College of Wooster in 1950.
Kintner entered Yale University as a graduate student in history, and received MA and PhD degrees from Yale in 1952 and 1958, respectively. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of Hajo Holborn and Roland Bainton, was a study of the German reformer Sebastian Franck as a historian. He taught history at Trinity College, Connecticut, from 1954 to 1964, with a year's visiting appointment at Reed College in 1957–58.
He joined the Department of History at Grinnell in 1964 as an associate professor and was promoted to professor of history in 1970. From 1976 to his retirement in 1996 he held the Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professorship of Humanities. He taught Grinnell students in Florence in 1989–90, his physical and intellectual vigor undiminished by the passing of years. Kintner served Grinnell College in many other ways, including serving as the chair of the faculty between 1972 and 1974. His regard for the welfare of Grinnell's Burling Library and its collection was sustained and vigilant. He became a forceful advocate of the addition of Chinese and East Asian history to the curriculum, and achieved this objective in the mid-1970s. That Grinnell now has a flourishing program in East Asian Studies owes much to Kintner's energy and commitment, as does the college's exchange program with Nanjing University. Kintner himself taught at Nanjing in 1987 and 1992, bringing the historiography course that was his own and his students' favorite to Chinese students. During the early 1970s, Kintner served as the chief reader for the Advanced Placement test in European history, devising a system for assuring uniformity and equity in grading that is now used in all subjects on the millions of AP exams taken by high school students each year.
Philip Kintner's own research interests focused on the Protestant Reformation in the free imperial city of Memmingen, the site where the Twelve Articles outlining peasant rights were written in 1525, leading to the German Peasants' War. His research in Memmingen began during a period after the Second World War, when the city archives had fallen into serious disrepair, and included climbing rickety ladders to fix windows and walls to keep out the rain, snow, and pigeons. City archivists commented later that his efforts had probably saved many of the city's records. His publications on Memmingen included analyses of the impact of the 16th-century "price revolution," patterns of migration into and out of the city, the intersection of religious and economic disputes in decisions of the city council, and the changing relationship between the city and its rural hinterland. Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who had observed the effects of war firsthand, much of his research centered on the ways in which the violence that accompanied the religious and social changes of the early 16th century shaped both the lives of ordinary people and the physical structure of the city. A chance archival reference led him to investigate the story of "the beautiful Judith," a woman found guilty of infanticide in 1569 whose sentence of death by drowning was commuted to life imprisonment "in chains" through the intervention of Protestant city council members and Catholic officials and nobles, an unusual mix of supporters. The number and thickness of her chains were lessened through subsequent intercessions, and she was ultimately pardoned by Emperor Rudolph II in 1582. Kintner's publications on Judith inspired the newly-formed Women's History Workshop of Memmingen to examine the case in great detail in museum exhibits and works for the general public, and it became the basis of a play performed many times at the Landestheatre Schwaben.
Philip Kintner's devoted wife, Anne Genung Kintner, passed away in 2003. He is survived by his daughters, Karen Kintner Bucky of Williamstown, Massachusetts; Judith Kintner of Yellow Springs, Ohio; and Jennifer Kintner of Jonesborough, Tennessee; and by five grandchildren. A memorial has been established in Kintner's name for the special collections of Burling Library of Grinnell College.
—D. A. Smith
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee