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Regents and Emeritus Professor of history Peter James Iverson dies at 76

His great academic passion of Native American history included focusing on the importance of oral histories and nontraditional sources


Professor Peter James Iverson smiles at the camera while sitting in front of a full bookcase

Regents and Emeritus Professor of history Peter James Iverson loved old traditions and new, both weaving and rodeo. He loved to listen and to engage, to teach and to play basketball with his students.

February 26, 2021

Emeritus Professor of history Peter James Iverson, 76, died on Feb. 14. He was the first Regents Professor of history at Arizona State University and took the then-novel approach in his practice and teaching of history, emphasizing the importance of oral histories and collaborating with the Native communities those histories were documenting. 

He received his bachelor’s degree in history at Carleton College and his master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was at Madison where Iverson turned to his great academic passion of Native American history. He leapt at the opportunity to teach at what was then Navajo Community College (now Diné College). His connection to the living communities of Native peoples, particularly the Diné, inspired his scholarship and teaching for his entire career.

He loved old traditions and new, both weaving and rodeo. He loved to listen and to engage, to teach and to play basketball with his students. He rebelled against a historical tradition that stuck to the archives, becoming a role model for modern historians who relied on oral histories and nontraditional sources. He taught this approach, insisting that his graduate students interact and collaborate with the Native peoples whose histories they were writing.

Iverson wrote 10 books (including "Diné: A History of the Navajos" (2002), "We Are Still Here" (1998), "Barry Goldwater: Native Arizonan" (1997) and "Carlos Montezuma" (1982)) and edited five additional volumes, as well as writing dozens of chapters, articles and essays. These works, often written in collaboration with Native scholars and artists, broke new ground in the study of Native peoples and the American West in the 20th century. He always acknowledged with respect and gratitude his teachers from the Navajo Nation and other Indigenous communities.

He received many prestigious fellowships and honors for his pioneering work. He was the winner of the Chief Manuelito Appreciation Award for Contributions to Navajo Education, the Ak-Chin Indian Community Service Award, the American Indian Historians Association Award, the Wyoming Council for the Humanities Award, the Western Writers of America Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award of the Carleton College Alumni Association. He was named a D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies fellow, a three-time National Endowment of the Humanities fellow, a leadership fellow of the Kellogg Foundation, an Arizona Humanities Council public scholar and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow.

In addition to his work at ASU, he also served as a professor of history at the University of Wyoming and as the Anderson Visiting Professor of American Studies at Carleton College. He received awards for teaching, doctoral mentorship and work as a faculty member at ASU and the University of Wyoming. He served as director of graduate studies in history at ASU. He was associate editor of The Historian from 1990–1995 and consulted on five documentary films. He was active in several professional associations, including serving as the president of the Western History Association and acting director of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Iverson is survived by his wife, Kaaren, four children, four grandchildren, two brothers and several nieces. Services will be planned at a later time. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations to the Peter and Kaaren Iverson Native American Scholarship Fund, which will support Native Americans studying at ASU, or checks may be made payable to "ASU Foundation" and sent to the ASU Foundation, Attn: Cash Receipting, P.O. Box 2260, Tempe, AZ 85280-2260. Please indicate "In Memory of Dr. Peter Iverson" in the memo field. All gifts are tax-deductible and will be added to a permanently endowed scholarship fund. To send condolences or sign the online guestbook, please go to Green Acres Mortuary and Cemetery

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