Robert F. Berkhofer
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Robert F. Berkhofer
Robert F. Berkhofer
Born(1931-11-30)November 30, 1931
DiedJune 25, 2012(2012-06-25) (aged 80)
Genevieve Zito Berkhofer
(m. 1962⁠–⁠2007)
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship
Academic background
EducationBA, University at Albany, SUNY
MA, PhD, 1960, Cornell University
ThesisProtestant missionaries to the American Indians, 1787 to 1862 (1960)
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Santa Cruz
University of Florida
University of Michigan
University of Wisconsin
University of Minnesota
Ohio State University

Robert F. Berkhofer (November 30, 1931- June 25, 2012) was an American historian. He was a professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz and former president of the American Studies Association.

Early life and education

Berkhofer was born on November 30, 1931[1] in Teaneck, New Jersey to Swiss-German parents. The family lived on a dairy farm in Greeneville, New York, where he then contracted polio at the age of 13 and was confined to a hospital for one year. On the day Japan surrendered in World War II, his mother released him from the hospital and spent three years giving him physical therapy at home so he could walk without a brace.[2] He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University at Albany, SUNY and his PhD from Cornell University.[3] He completed his graduate degrees under the guidance of Paul Wallace Gates and earned a fellowship at Fort Ticonderoga.[2]


Upon receiving his PhD, Berkhofer spent one academic year at Ohio State University before accepting a position as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota.[2] During this time, he became engaged and married his wife Genevieve (nee Zito) in 1962.[4] He stayed in Minnesota for nine years, where he rose through the academic ranks to associate professor and chair of American studies by 1969.[2] During this time, he also published his first book through the University of Kentucky Press titled Salvation and the Savage: An Analysis of Protestant Missions and American Indian Response, 1787-1862.[5]

Berkhofer left Minnesota in 1969 to accept a professorship position at the University of Wisconsin, during which he published A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis.[2] In the book, Berkhofer explained that historians should adapt their discipline by learning from two different groups; social scientists and philosophers of science and history.[6] He also played a role in establishing an undergraduate course focused on American Indian history including tribes and the white man's image of Indians.[7] During the 1973-1974 academic year, Berkhofer received a National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship to study the "evolving concepts of the American Indian."[8]

Following the publication of his second book, Berkhofer transferred to the University of Michigan (UMich) where he stayed for almost three decades.[2] While there, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to research United States history[9] and was appointed president of the American Studies Association.[10] Berkhofer also continued his studies into American Indians and published The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present in 1978.[11] In this book, he explored the dichotomy between the Colonial concept of the noble savage and bloodthirsty heathens of which only one were considered "worthy of submission."[12]

As he grew older and experienced post-polio pains, Berkhofer accepted a one year position at the University of Florida and finally the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). He worked at UCSC from 1991 until 2007, when he chose to reitre. Berkhofer died on June 25, 2012, in Davis, California.[2]

Personal life

Prior to his wife's death in 2007, Berkhofer and Genevieve Zito Berkhofer had one son together.[13]


  1. ^ "Berkhofer, Robert F." Retrieved 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Axtell, James (September 1, 2013). "ROBERT BERKHOFER JR. (1931-2012)". Retrieved 2020.
  3. ^ Owen Hughes, Diane (2013). "History mourns the loss of three emeritus professors, Rhoads Murphey, Robert Berkhofer, Jr. and Albert Feuerwerker". University of Michigan. Retrieved 2020.
  4. ^ "Miss Zito to Wed Mr. Berkhofer". Star Tribune. February 25, 1962. Retrieved 2020 – via
  5. ^ Beaver, R. Pierce (December 1965). "Review of Salvation and the Savage. An Analysis of Protestant Missions and American Indian Response, 1787-1862". Church History. American Society of Church History. 34 (4): 473-474. doi:10.2307/3163143. JSTOR 3163143. Retrieved 2020.
  6. ^ Walsh, W.H. (1971). "Reviewed Work: A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis by Robert F. Berkhofer". History and Theory. 10 (2): 241-246. doi:10.2307/2504295. JSTOR 2504295. Retrieved 2020.
  7. ^ "UW Offers Course on American Indian". Madison Wisconsin State Journal. November 22, 1972. Retrieved 2020 – via
  8. ^ "Berkhofer Gets Fellowship For Indian Study". Madison Capital Times. November 20, 1972. Retrieved 2020 – via
  9. ^ "ROBERT F. BERKHOFER". Retrieved 2020.
  10. ^ "Presidents". American Studies Association. Archived from the original on August 27, 2020. Retrieved 2020.
  11. ^ Hijiya, James A. (December 1978). "Review of The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present". Journal of American History. 65 (3): 742-743. doi:10.2307/1901433. JSTOR 1901433. Retrieved 2020.
  12. ^ Ireland, Corydon (March 26, 2013). "Portraits of vanished Indian life". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 2020.
  13. ^ "Robert Berkhofer Obituary". Retrieved 2020.

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