Eugen Weber, AHA life member and the recipient of the Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction for 1999, died on Thursday, May 17, 2007, according to a press release from UCLA, where Weber was emeritus professor of history. He was 82. Weber, who was, for a time, dean of UCLA’s College of Letters and Science, was one of the foremost interpreters of the history of modern France. His historical investigations, which often made innovative use of nontraditional sources, covered a wide field, from high cultures and politics to rural economies and social structures. While many of Weber’s books, especially Peasants into Frenchmen (1976), France Fin-de-Siècle (1986), My France (1991), The Hollow Years (1994), and Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages (1999) were brilliant explorations of the particular, his magisterial but lucid textbook—A Modern History of Europe—showed his command of the wider view and his ability to weave a coherent narrative out of many historical strands.
An émigré from Romania to inter-war Britain in his teen-age years, Weber studied at Cambridge University and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris, serving in between in the British army during the Second World War. After a stint at the University of Iowa, Weber joined UCLA in 1956 and stayed on, writing, teaching, and above all, making history accessible to the wider public, most notably through hosting a 52-part PBS television program, The Western Tradition. A chair in modern European history was created at UCLA in his name (and is currently held by former AHA president and another distinguished historian of France, Lynn Hunt).
As the citation for the AHA’s Award for Scholarly Distinction put it, among other things, “Eugen Weber set the gold standard for the study of modern French history in the Anglophone world.”