Amherst College mourns the passing of Peter Czap, the Henry Winkley Professor of History, Emeritus, on Oct. 24, 2023. 

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein wrote the following in an Oct. 27 email to faculty and staff:

Peter received a B.A from Rutgers University in 1953 and a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1959. After teaching for two years at the College of William and Mary, he came to Amherst, where his career spanned some forty-seven years, from 1961 until his retirement in 2008. At the college, Peter taught many courses on Russian and European history, including innovative courses on the multi-ethnic nature of the Soviet Union that presaged its eventual dissolution. He also taught well-received first-year seminars with titles such as “War” and “Memory,” the latter with his future wife, Susan Snively, and others. As a scholar, Peter focused on the family structure of the Russian peasantry during the Tsarist era; his studies of pre-industrial peasant demographic behavior were supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.  In search of archival material, Peter spent several sabbaticals at Moscow State University, one of which coincided with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. One day, Peter noticed that he was no longer receiving delivery of the International Herald-Tribune and was totally reliant on Radio Moscow for news; only after the crisis ended, when he received a stack of back issues delivered to his doorstep, did he learn the true danger of the moment.  

In department meetings, I enjoyed Peter's endearingly crusty humor. John Servos, Peter's longtime colleague and fellow professor of history, recalls how "Peter had a sardonic wit and cultivated a cynicism that was particularly suited to his specialization in Tsarist Russia." John further notes that "But the cynicism masked a heart of gold. ... [Peter] gave generously to teaching, much of it spent on sparking genuine curiosity among students through careful reading of primary sources. He volunteered for more than his fair share of departmental chores and served on countless search committees. Those who served with him on these searches came away impressed with his scholarly range, kindness to anxious job applicants, shrewd judgment, and steady good humor. He was an exemplary colleague."  

When Peter suffered terrible injuries after being struck by a car late in his career, his many devoted friends were essential to his recovery.  He married Susan in 2000, and together they transformed their eighteenth-century house into a place where Peter’s gardening and cooking skills delighted their visitors.  Ever active in retirement, he enjoyed travel, including fishing trips to Maine. Peter is survived by Susan and three children—Nick, Nadia, and Peter.  

If and when plans for a memorial service become known, they will be posted on this page.

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