Howard H. Peckham, second Director of the Clements Library, was a historian of colonial and revolutionary America and an authority on rare Americana. As a manuscript curator from 1935 to 1945, he organized the papers of British army commanders and cabinet ministers relating to the American Revolution that had been purchased by the Library in the 1920s and 1930s.
As Director, Peckham greatly expanded the Library’s colonial and revolutionary collections, and acquired important manuscripts for the early national and antebellum periods. Continuing the work begun by his predecessor Randolph G. Adams, Peckham broadened the scope of the Library’s research collections. He added over 2,300 books printed before 1800, and developed new collecting interests–early American music, architecture, literature, and the history of indigenous religious movements.
A skillful and prolific historian, Peckham was a founder and contributor to American Heritage, and author of numerous books and articles. His seminal book, Pontiac and the Indian Uprising (1948), retold the story of the Ottawa chief’s “rebellion,” depicting Pontiac as a local leader caught up in a much larger movement of Native American resistance to Anglo-American expansion. Among his many contributions on the history of the American Revolution, Peckham published The Toll of Independence (1974), which counted American casualties, putting the number far higher than previously believed, 25,000 military deaths out of a population of three million. During his directorship, Peckham served as Professor of History and wrote The Making of the University of Michigan, 1817-1967 (1967). One of the country’s early professional archivists, he was a founding member of the Society of American Archivists. When Peckham retired in 1977, he had transformed the Clements from an exclusive library for bibliophiles and expert historians, to an active center for historical research at all levels.