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Perez Zagorin, 88, Dies; Historian Was Expert on English Revolution

Perez Zagorin engaged in debates over Marxist and postmodern interpretations of history.
Perez Zagorin engaged in debates over Marxist and postmodern interpretations of history. (Family Photo)
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Perez Zagorin, 88, a leading historian of the 17th-century English Revolution and a critic of Marxist interpretations of history, died April 26 at George Washington University Hospital of complications following open-heart surgery. He lived in Washington.

Since 1992, Dr. Zagorin had been a research fellow at the University of Virginia's Edgar F. Shannon Center for Advanced Studies. He established his reputation as a prominent scholar in 1954 with "A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution."

Other books, including "The Court and the Country: The Beginning of the English Revolution" (1969) and the two-volume "Rebels and Rulers: 1500-1600" (1982), examined political and ideological trends across Europe.

His 1999 book about the 17th-century English philosopher Francis Bacon was praised in the British Times Literary Supplement as "the best single-volume study available."

Dr. Zagorin also wrote about poet John Milton and the development of the idea of religious tolerance in Europe. In 2005, he published a book for general readers about the Greek historian Thucydides. His final book, "Hobbes and the Law of Nature," to be published later this year, examines the moral and political thought of 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Dr. Zagorin was born in Chicago and was a graduate of the University of Chicago. He received a master's degree and PhD in history from Harvard University in 1947 and 1952, respectively.

During World War II, he worked in the Office of War Information. He was also a labor organizer.

Early in his career, he taught at Amherst College in Massachusetts and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Because of his youthful left-wing political views, he was ostracized during the McCarthy era. He moved to Canada and taught for 10 years at McGill University in Montreal. He also taught at Johns Hopkins University before joining the faculty of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) in 1965. He spent 25 years at Rochester and was chairman of the history department.

Dr. Zagorin often focused on the idea of revolution and political unrest, and later in his career he often engaged in spirited public debates with other historians over what he considered oversimplified Marxist and postmodernist interpretations of history.

His wife of 61 years, artist Honoré Sharrer, died April 17.

Survivors include a son, Adam Zagorin of Washington; a brother; and two grandsons.

-- Matt Schudel

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