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Duke Historian Joel Colton Dies at Age 92
Durham, NC - Duke historian Joel Colton, who was known to generations of students as co-author of the college textbook, "A History of the Modern World," died April 17 in Durham. He was 92.
Born August 23, 1918, in New York City, Colton specialized in modern and contemporary European history, he taught at Duke University from 1947-1989, chairing the History Department from 1967-1974.
"A History of the Modern World" was used in more than 1,000 high schools, colleges and universities and was translated into 10 languages.
At Duke, Colton also served on the executive committee of the Academic Council. From 1974-1982, he served as Director for Humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation and returned to Duke in 1982 where he taught until his retirement in 1989.
"Joel Colton was chair when I came," said William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History at Duke. "He was a wonderful chair, a brilliant scholar and a great teacher. He helped make the humanities richer and better both at Duke and elsewhere through his role as head of the humanities division of the Rockefeller Foundation. His sense of humor, vitality and his love of people made him a pivotal presence at Duke. I think of him as debonair and full of life."
Colton graduated from City College of New York in 1937, receiving his B.A. magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his M.A. in history in 1940 and his Ph.D. in 1950, both from Columbia University. During WWII, he was commissioned a military intelligence officer and served in the U.S. Army from 1942-1946 both in combat and occupied Germany. He published several articles on his wartime experiences including crossing the Rhine with his counter-intelligence corps at the Remagen Bridge in March 1945.
He joined the Duke faculty in 1947 and published his first book "Compulsory Labor Arbitration in France, 1936-1939," in 1951, followed by "Leon Blum: Humanist in Politics" in 1966. For Time-Life, he wrote "The Twentieth Century" in 1968. His articles and book reviews have appeared in the American Historical Review, Journal of Modern History, Yale Review, and New York Times Book Review.
His research awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1979, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other awards included a Townsend Harris Medal for distinguished achievement as an alumnus of City College of New York; an elected fellow of the Phi Beta Kappa Society; a distinguished teaching award from Duke; honored by the Western Society of French History; and the Enno Kraehe Distinguished Service Award from the Southern Historical Association.
Colton married his late wife, Shirley (Baron) in 1942. She died in 2003. Survivors include his daughter Valerie Woodbury, her daughters, Emelyn, Marcia, and Amy of Durham; and his son Kenneth Colton, wife Ellen, their children, Clare and Alexander of Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
The Joel and Shirley Colton Fund for European History has been established in his memory. Contributions may be sent to: Duke Library, P.O. Box 90197, Durham, N.C. 27708.
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