Peter Riesenberg

Peter Riesenberg, research associate in history from 2003 to 2006, died on May 14, 2018, in Harpswell, Maine.

(The following appeared online at in May 2018):

Peter Riesenberg, Professor of Emeritus History, for more than thirty years, at Washington University in St. Louis and longtime resident of Harpswell, Maine, died peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety-two. He was born in New York City to Miriam (Handel) and Dr. Bernard Riesenberg. At the time of his death he had lived in retirement in Maine for more than twenty years and had been suffering from a series of strokes and Parkinson’s.

In his first book, Inalienability of Sovereignty in Medieval Political Thought, he noticed repeated mentions of citizenship. This led to a long study of that institution, especially in a much neglected but huge body of legal cases known as Consilia. These were legal questions put to Roman and Canon lawyers for their judgement. The Consilia thus give us insight into the actual medieval duty, privilege, and functions of citizens. These studies resulted in Citizenship in the Western Tradition, a prize winning work now translated into Mandarin. This book also developed out of his first published work, co-authored with John Mundy, The Medieval Town. And with Jack Hexter he contributed to a volume of readings and commentaries for classes in Western Civilization.

He was known as a legendary teacher in both large classes and seminars. At Washington University he was also a figure in university governance, being the first secretary of the faculty, the first faculty member to sit with the Board of Trustees, and the chair at one time of the University Senate Council.

He taught occasionally in the law school and with colleagues in physics and comparative literature.

During his career he also taught at Rutgers, Swarthmore and Bowdoin College and summer sessions at Columbia, the University of Vermont and Berkeley. There was also a semester at Taiwan National University.

His awards include a Columbia Cutting Traveling Fellowship, a Guggenheim, two Fulbrights, and a SSRC fellowship.

He lived for more than four years in Rome studying in the Vatican and national libraries, a year in Florence and while abroad traveled extensively throughout central and Western Europe. In the Far East, besides Taiwan, he visited China, Japan and much of Southeast Asia. He also traveled throughout the Middle East including Libya and Syria.

He was educated in the New York City schools, entered Rutgers in 1942 and graduated in 1947. During WWII he served more than two years winding up in Japan writing Air Force histories and editing a base newspaper. After Rutgers, he received an MA from the University of Wisconsin and in 1954 a PhD from Columbia.

In retirement, his studies in citizenship led to years of service on the Board of the Curtis Memorial Library, and the governance and budget committees of the Town of Harpswell. From Drs. R. Mendelson in St. Louis and James Rines in Maine, he received wonderful care during his life.

He played a decent game of tennis into his seventies and enjoyed classical music and opera all of his life. He tried to be a good father, husband and friend. He is survived by his wife, the love of his life Helen (Trudi), two daughters Julia and Anne, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren as well as two stepsons and two step grandchildren.

The family would like to thank Comfort Keepers of Damariscotta and CHANS for their loving care at the end of Peter’s life.

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