Perry Miller

Biography of Perry Miller

Perry G. Miller (February 25, 1905 – December 9, 1963) was an American intellectual historian and Harvard University professor. He was an authority on American Puritanism, and a founder of the field of American Studies. Alfred Kazin referred to him as "the master of American intellectual history". In his most famous book, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939), Miller adopted a cultural approach to illuminate the worldview of the Puritans, unlike previous historians who employed psychological and economic explanations of their beliefs and behavior.

Miller was born in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Chicago and taught at Harvard beginning in 1931. In 1942 Miller resigned his post at Harvard to join the U.S. Army; he was stationed in Great Britain for the duration of the war, where he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. Miller may have been instrumental in creating the Psychological Warfare Branch of the O.S.S.; certainly he worked for the PWB for the duration of the war. After 1945 Miller returned to teaching at Harvard.

Miller wrote book reviews and articles in The Nation and American Scholar. In his long-awaited biography of Jonathan Edwards, published in 1949, Miller argues that Edwards was actually an artist working in the only medium available to him in the 18th century American frontier, namely: that of religion and theology. His posthumously published The Life of the Mind in America, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize, was only the first installment of a projected ten-volume series.

Miller spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey on a Guggenheim Fellowship and also taught in Japan for a year. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His death was a tragic loss to America's intellectual landscape. Felix Frankfurter wrote a moving obituary for Miller which was published in The New York Herald Tribune after his death.

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