Peter Knox Cline (1942-2008)
Thomas D. Hamm, September 2008
Earlham College professor for 32 years
Peter Knox Cline, professor of history at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, died unexpectedly on March 29, 2008. He was near the conclusion of his 32nd year of teaching at Earlham.
Peter Cline was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on March 4, 1942, and grew up there. After spending his freshman year at Cornell University, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history in 1964. He shared fully in the intellectual ferment of Madison in the early 1960s. One of his favorite stories was how his Trotskyite Marxist study group successfully resisted a takeover attempt by the local Stalinist faction. Winning a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a National Defense Education Fellowship, he did work for the MA and PhD at Stanford University in British history, with a dissertation under R.W. Lyman and Peter Stansky on political aspects of the economic policies of British governments from 1918 to 1923. He completed his doctorate in 1969.
After teaching one term at the University of Washington and for a few years at the University of California at Davis, Cline joined the Earlham faculty in 1976. He quickly established himself as a popular professor and respected colleague. For most of his career, half of his teaching was in the first-year humanities sequence required of all students. There his gifts for discussion leadership and teaching writing exhibited themselves to full advantage, as he led students through texts that ranged from Plato's Gorgias to Don Quixote to Eugen Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, to name just a few. His history teaching ranged widely, from long-time courses on Philosophy of History, Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and Tudor-Stuart England to more recently developed courses on gender and sexuality.
Peter Cline drew students to his classes with his quick wit and wicked sense of humor. His offhand comments in discussions and polished lectures were equally memorable. He was much sought after as an advisor by history majors. He was a wheel horse of faculty governance for most of his time at Earlham, serving on most of the college's committees dealing with academic curricular issues. He served as associate academic dean from 1988 to 1990 and as acting academic dean for one quarter in the 1990–91 school year. He was a prolific writer of book reviews for a variety of scholarly journals.
For the last fifteen years of his life, poor health plagued Cline, a combination of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. He was determined to keep teaching, however, even as his ailments impaired his mobility. The college had scheduled a series of events in honor of his retirement on March 28–29, 2008. In his last e-mail to the rest of the department, with typical humor, he told colleagues not to feel obliged to attend all the events—he was trying to find a way to avoid at least one. When he did not appear for the tea on the afternoon of March 28, colleagues went to his home and found him ill. Although rushed to the local hospital, he died the next afternoon, shortly before the hour set for his retirement dinner. He was buried in La Crosse. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ann Esch Cline, and is survived by siblings and nieces and nephews.
—Thomas D. Hamm