In Memoriam

Peter A. Porter (1967–2017)

Dermot Quinn | Feb 16, 2018

Historian of the US and Europe; AHA Member

Peter A. PorterPeter A. Porter Jr., adjunct professor of history at Seton Hall University and a history teacher at Montville High School, New Jersey, died on November 28, 2017. He was 49 and had been suffering from brain cancer.

A native of San Diego, Peter joined the United States Marine Corps after graduating from high school, serving in Operations Desert Storm (1990–91) and Desert Shield (2006). Between these two tours of duty, he received his BA from Seton Hall (where he was a formidably energetic president of the History Club) and his MA from Rutgers University–Newark (where he worked with Peter Golden writing a thesis on Russia in the Seven Years War).

As a college and high school teacher, he concentrated on 19th-century US and European history and offered a special course on the Holocaust. His research interests lay in Jacksonian America, especially in Andrew Jackson’s “kitchen cabinet,” about which he could speak at length and with endless enthusiasm. Peter had an omnivorous historical appetite. “In the fifth grade, my teacher gave me a high school history text, and I read the whole book over Christmas,” he said in a 2013 AHA Today interview. “You could say the die was cast then.”

History, for Peter, was a passion, almost an addiction. He loved to teach it. He loved to talk about it. He loved to discover it for himself. A new museum to explore, a new site to visit, a new class to inspire: this was his idea of happiness. The past, for Peter, was not a foreign country: it was his homeland and his hinterland, the landscape that never grew stale. He delighted in introducing it to others, and they in turn shared his delight. If anyone was a born teacher, it was Peter. Gracious in praise, gentle in correction, with a ready laugh and a mile-wide smile, he was the professor that students—and colleagues—remember for the rest of their lives. That his own life has ended so soon adds to the sorrow of his passing.

Peter gave generously to the profession that gave him so much. He joined the AHA in 1996 and was elected to the Teaching Division, participating in the Association’s Tuning project, which examined the core elements of history and reassessed the goals of the undergraduate history major. As he said in the interview, meeting and interacting with “some of the best and brightest minds in the field” was “incredibly rewarding.” Membership on the executive committee was “the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it for the world.”

Peter was also a driving force in the New Jersey chapter of the National Council of History Education, bringing some of the nation’s leading historians to the chapter’s annual conference in Princeton. He relished these occasions, meeting old friends, making new ones, bringing together people who shared a passion for the past. Never for a moment did he complain of the work involved, the time consumed. Working for and with historians was time well spent.

Peter enthusiastically supported National History Day. He encouraged his high school students to participate, and quite a few did. More than once, they went on from the state to the national competition, with Peter along to encourage them.

Peter enjoyed the performing arts (he had been an actor in his undergraduate days) and music. Through thick and thin, he supported the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New Jersey Devils. He was very active in local charities in his home town of Montclair, New Jersey.

Peter Porter is survived by his wife, Val; his daughters, Meg and Kathleen; his father, Peter Porter Sr.; and his brother, Matthew. He was a man of very large gifts of mind, heart, and spirit who will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Dermot Quinn
Seton Hall University

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