I was saddened to learn today, of the passing of Pauline Maier, following a brief illness. Professor Maier was a highly-respected historian and longtime member of the History faculty at M.I.T. She was perhaps best known for her work on the American Revolution, although her scholarship also covered the Colonial period. She was also an accomplished teacher. Having once worked at M.I.T., I know that it is an institution that values teaching. Nonetheless, teaching excellence is something that is unusual for a scholar of her caliber at an elite research school.
Maier was a graduate of Radcliffe College (1960). Following her graduation, she studied at the London School of Economics as a Fulbright Scholar. She began her Ph.D. in History at Harvard in 1968, where she studied with Bernard Bailyn after a seminar she took with him inspired her to switch from twentieth-century history to the Colonial era. She spent the first nine years of her career at the University of Massachusetts of Boston, and a year at the University of Wisconsin before she joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History.
I had the fortune of meeting Maier three years ago, at a reception for a graduate conference hosted by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, at their beautiful Beacon Hill headquarters on Mount Vernon Street. She was unassuming, witty, and quite gracious to all of us junior scholars. Although I did not immediately recognize her, I was excited to meet her and managed (I think) from going “fan girl.” Like most historians (or, almost-historian, as I was at the time) of the eighteenth century and the Revolutionary era, my own work was influenced by hers. I regretted not having brought my battered copy of From Resistance to Revolution to see if I could get it signed. As my own worked moved more into eighteenth-century religious culture, her insights in American Scripture were invaluable as I worked through a couple of theoretical problems in the dissertation that I am now revising into a book. Her accomplishments were tremendous. She was a 2011 recipient of the George Washington Book Prize, among the most prestigious book prizes in the field, along with many other awards and commendations for her scholarship and teaching. She also broke down many barriers for women in the profession; while not a scholar of women’s history, it was under her influence that M.I.T adopted new curriculum in women’s studies.
Our paths did not cross again, alas, but I will always appreciate having met her. The field has suffered a tremendous loss. Aside from a profound professional legacy, Maier leaves her husband, fellow Historian Charles S. Maier, and three children.