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Edmund Morgan, famed historian
of colonial America, dies at 97

In 2002—16 years after retiring from the Yale faculty and nearly six decades after publishing his first book—Edmund S. Morgan hit the New York Times bestseller list with a biography of Benjamin Franklin. Morgan was then a lad of 86, and he seemed unstoppable.

Monday, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, finally did stop. He died at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was being treated for pneumonia, the AP reports.

"Morgan shared Franklin's birthday, January 17, and impish spirit," the AP obituary continues. "The bald, round-faced historian had a prankster's smile; a soft, sweet laugh; and a willingness to poke fun at his own prestige, joking that history books bored him and that his favorite students were the ones who disagreed with him. He attributed the success of his Franklin book to 'the geezer factor.'"

Morgan's other works of early American history spanned the colonies, from New England Puritanism to "the paradox of freedom and slavery" in Virginia, as the New York Times puts it. For generations of Yale students, he was one of those professors whose last name was synonymous with his lecture courses: "Are you taking Morgan this term?"

But it was the Franklin biography—based largely on Franklin's papers at Yale—that brought Morgan fame off-campus.

"I think that I look at things differently after reading 46 volumes’ worth of Franklin’s papers than I did before," he told the Yale Alumni Magazine in a 2002 interview. "The fact that the human species could produce a guy like this—there has to be something good about it."

Filed under Edmund Morgan, history
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