Arno Mayer, Elie Wiesel Award Honoree and Eminent Historian of Modern Europe, Dies at 97

Jan. 24, 2024

By: Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications

Arno J. Mayer, the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Emeritus, and an eminent historian of modern Europe and the politics and diplomacy of peacemaking, died while in hospice care at a memory-care facility in Princeton, N.J., on Dec. 18, 2023. He lived independently in an apartment in Princeton until just a few months before his death. He was 97.

Mayer taught at Princeton for more than three decades, joining the Princeton faculty in 1961 and transferring to emeritus status in 1993.

“His most important work of scholarship, ‘The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War’ (1981), accounted for World War I by looking beyond the failures of diplomacy to broader political struggles in Europe,” said Angela Creager, the Thomas M. Siebel Professor in the History of Science, professor of history and department chair. “His interpretations of history were often iconoclastic, but he was personally interested in people, especially junior colleagues, irrespective of whether they agreed with him.”

Creager said that one of his most lasting contributions to the history department was establishing, with Lawrence Stone, the Dodge Professor of History, Emeritus, a methods seminar for entering graduate students — which is still taught every fall.

Philip Nord, the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Emeritus, a close colleague and lifelong friend, also noted Mayer’s attentiveness to newer members of the department, counting himself among them.

“Arno was a charismatic teacher and colleague, by turns charming and irreverent,” Nord said. “He took a special interest in what junior faculty were working on and was always at the ready to read our work and provide a comment that was frank but also constructive. I remember working with him on graduate admissions. What he looked for in a dossier was not a well-stuffed CV but signs of a spark. Pedigree did not matter so much as evidence of a critical intellect at work.”