A former University of Wisconsin professor of American history who gained international recognition as a religious scholar died in Madison on Saturday at the age of 76 after a short bout with cancer.
Paul Boyle was UW Merle Curti Chair Emeritus in American history. His work centered on religion and its impact on American life. He published a number of books on American history, including on the Salem witch trials of the 17th century and American culture in the age of the atomic bomb.
Florencia Mallon, the chair of UW’s history department, described Boyer as humble, generous and supportive of other colleagues.
“He was an incredibly unassuming person,” Mallon said. “He was one of the most outstanding people in his field. … He was an internationally-known historian, but he was a very humble man. He never blew his own horn.”
Mallon added when Boyle became ill, she asked him if there were any students he wanted to have informed of his situation.
When Boyle sent her a list of graduate students, Mallon said she emailed the students and received a high number of replies in support of him.
“The response was overwhelming,” Mallon said. “It was clear he was someone who was remembered … with a huge amount of affection and gratitude.”
UW history professor Charles Cohen, a long-time friend of Boyer’s, said Boyer chaired the committee that brought Cohen to UW and co-edited a book with him.
Cohen described Boyer as tremendously intelligent, as well as gentle and open.
He said Boyer was genuinely curious not only about his own projects, but those of others as well, which Cohen felt made Boyer a very good colleague and editor.
Cohen added Boyer was engaged in his work and with others up until the day he died, giving him the grace and strength that supported him throughout his life.
“He said to me that he could still get lost intellectually in his projects,” Cohen said. “He said now, knowing what’s coming, it may seem kind of frivolous, but he was still so very engaged and he could lose himself in whatever he was doing.”