Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Peter Hart, Historian


I tend to think of my fellow historians as falling into one of two categories: living and dead. My own advisor is living, as are the sort of people I run into at conferences. There are other historians, such as the great golden calf smasher, A. J. P. Taylor, who are deceased and hopefully resting in peace. After a long and profitable career, a historian may gently slip from the former category to the latter. My current rabbi, M. R. D. Foot, was born in 1919 and has produced more books that I have time to read, much less could ever write. Some day he will pass from this life, and though his passing will be mourned, his rest will be well-deserved and unsurprising.

Today, however, I had the unfortunate experience to discover that a young historian, Peter Hart, passed away in July at the much too early age of 46. His work on the Irish Revolution has been of great help to me; just yesterday I was reading The IRA and Its Enemies. One can only hope that his forthcoming work, Guerrilla Days in the UK: Revolution in Ireland and Britain, will still be published.

History is a discipline which rewards longevity. It takes years simply to acquire a PhD, the union card to participate in the dialogue. Even then, archival research and sufficient background material for a major contribution can take decades to collect. Hart's career was already impressive and showed great promise for better still to come. His death is a profound loss for the field. May he rest in peace.
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