Robert Roswell Palmer Biography

Robert Roswell Palmer (January 11, 1909 – June 11, 2002), commonly known as R. R. Palmer, was a distinguished American historian at Princeton and Yale universities, who specialized in eighteenth-century France. His most influential work of scholarship, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959 and 1964), examined an age of democratic revolution that swept the Atlantic civilization between 1760 and 1800. He was awarded the Bancroft Prize in History for the first volume. Palmer also achieved distinction as a history text writer.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Palmer accelerated through the public schools; by winning a citywide contest for a play written in Latin, he earned a full scholarship to the University of Chicago. He studied with Louis Gottschalk and earned his Ph. B. in 1931. He received his PhD from Cornell University three years later, studying with Carl L. Becker. His dissertation was The French Idea of American Independence on the Eve of the French Revolution.

In 1936 Palmer began teaching as an instructor at Princeton University, and worked there for nearly three decades, becoming a full professor. He was dean of arts and sciences (1963-1966) at Washington University in St. Louis, then returned to teaching and writing at Yale University, where he retired as professor emeritus. Palmer had visiting professorships at numerous universities, including Berkeley, Chicago, Colorado and Michigan. After retiring in 1977, he returned to Princeton as a guest scholar at its Institute for Advanced Study.

Palmer married Esther Howard in 1942, and they had three children and four grandchildren. His son, the historian Stanley Palmer, is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington. After R.R. Palmer's death in 2002 at Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a memorial service was held at Princeton Chapel.