Publication Date

April 1, 2011

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Peter Andrew KraemerScholar of U.S. foreign relations; oral historian

Peter Andrew Kraemer, a historian in the Office of the Historian for the U.S. Department of State, died unexpectedly on April 7, 2010, at the age of 37. An emerging scholar of U.S. foreign relations in postwar Germany, Kraemer strived to make connections between diverse branches of scholarship and scholars through his work at the Office of the Historian and professional organizations, especially the Organization of American Historians (OAH) and the Society of Historians in the Federal Government (SHFG), as well as his connections with friends and colleagues.

Kraemer’s passion for Germany and German history was ignited early in life during extended visits to Germany with his father. He pursued undergraduate studies at Dickinson College, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1994 with a double major in history and German. Kraemer spent his junior year on an exchange at the University of Bremen where he became truly bilingual and bicultural.

Following graduation, Kraemer worked for a year in the Oral History Program at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There, Kraemer honed important oral history skills and furthered his interest in the historical connections between the United States and Germany in the postwar years, but also saw first hand how academic pursuits and public service could combine into a meaningful career.

In 1995, Kraemer entered the graduate program at Indiana University where he earned a PhD in history and American Studies in 2004. His dissertation, “Germany Is Whose Problem? American Philanthropy and the Germany Question, 1944–64,” examined the role that soft diplomacy—in the form of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations—played in Germany’s postwar denazification, reconstruction, and democratization in the context of a growing Atlantic partnership between Europe and the United States.

While a graduate student, Kraemer worked for the Indiana University Oral History Research Center where he worked on such projects as the “Indiana University Oral History Archive,” interviewing professors, deans, and university administrators about their experiences at the university. These interviews demonstrated Kraemer’s aptitude for oral history, showing an early ease and flexibility that brought out thoughtful and reflective answers from his subjects. He also served as an editorial assistant at the Journal of American History, headquartered in Bloomington. Finally, Kraemer worked as an associate instructor in the Department of History/Amerika Institut, Indiana University-Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and as an adjunct instructor in history and American studies in the Indiana University system where he taught courses that examined the United States in a global context. In 2004, Kraemer received the Paul Lucas Teaching Award for his outstanding work and development as a teacher.

Kraemer began working for the State Department in August 2004 as a compiler of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). The Office of the Historian compiles and makes public government documents related to the United States’ foreign diplomacy. Kraemer compiled and edited FRUS volumes on South Asia and Europe between 1969 and 1976, and was in the process of compiling a volume on national security policy during the Carter administration. In addition to his dedicated work on FRUS, he also participated in measures that promoted the work and expanded the mission of the office, especially in the field of oral history. Kraemer was involved in the development of conferences sponsored by the State Department on U.S. relations with China in 2005, with South Asia in 2006, and contributed to the early planning of a 2010 conference on U.S. relations with Vietnam. In 2007, he helped to develop and teach the A-100 orientation course at the Foreign Service Institute for the training of Foreign Service officers, and in January 2009, he joined two co-workers in traveling to Baghdad, Iraq, as part of an exploratory team to participate in a study entitled, “A Comprehensive Approach: Iraq a Case Study.” While in Baghdad, the team conducted oral interviews of senior U.S. embassy officials, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The final study was completed in April 2009.

Kraemer was an active member of several professional organizations, but most importantly in the OAH and the SHFG. In the OAH, Kraemer served on the International Committee (2006–08) where he worked to not only bring an international perspective to an organization focused on U.S. history, but to also find ways to incorporate more fully foreign colleagues into the organization. He also served as a member and chair of the Committee on Committees (2008–10), where he committed himself to diversifying the leadership of the OAH by including federal and public historians, as well as historians in the early stages of their careers.

Kraemer continued to break down barriers between historians with his service for the Society of Historians in the Federal Government. He became treasurer in 2006, but his most memorable work for the SHFG was as a representative at other professional meetings, discussing work in the federal government. These sessions were some of the most popular, in part because of Kraemer’s candidness in talking about the job market, federal work, and academia. He demonstrated that federal work did not mean an end to personal research, or even teaching, but was a choice combining interests in public service and history. Through his talks he opened the doors to many new job-seekers to think more broadly about what it meant to be a historian.

Kraemer was gifted as a generous friend and colleague. Though he cultivated a serious personae on the job, underneath his smart suit lurked a pair of crazy socks and a fun-loving personality to match. Outside of the office, he enjoyed cooking, traveling, reading, animals, Dr. Who, and the color orange. His love of life was matched only by his enduring sense of justice. Answering a resounding “Yes!” to the thematic question “Do I dare disturb the universe?” at the center of his favorite childhood novel, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, Kraemer spent time and money helping friends, colleagues, and strangers around the globe create a more just and democratic world.  He is mourned by many friends and family and missed by all who knew him. The historical profession has lost a truly promising scholar, but the world has also lost a great man.

— Robin C. Henry
Wichita State University

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