H. Daniel Peck, PhD

Professor Emeritus of English
Portrait of H. Daniel Peck, PhD,

H. Daniel Peck is the John Guy Vassar Professor Emeritus of English and an interdisciplinary scholar of American literature and art. His books Thoreau’s Morning Work and A World by Itself: The Pastoral Moment in Cooper’s Fiction, both published by Yale University Press, study expressive values of landscape in these writers’ works. His book about Thoreau has been excerpted in numerous collections.

Professor Peck’s most recent book, published in 2019 by Cornell University Press, is Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek. He curated the exhibition inspired by this book at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and subsequently at the Hudson River Museum. This exhibition was praised in The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

In his scholarship Professor Peck has been especially interested in locating coherent patterns of meaning in discursive, intermittent forms such as Thoreau’s Journal and certain of Cole’s non-allegorical paintings of American landscape. His art history publications include an article comparing Thoreau’s Journal with the plein air oil paintings of Asher B. Durand, in American Literary History (Oxford) and an article, published in American Art Magazine (Smithsonian), about a series of early watercolors by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Professor Peck’s literary editions include works in the Penguin Classics, Oxford World Classics, and Barnes and Noble Classics series. He also edited the essay collection New Essays on The Last of the Mohicans (Cambridge Univ. Press) and The Green American Tradition: Essays and Poems for Sherman Paul (LSU Press). He has contributed essays to various literary histories and reference guides, including The Columbia History of American Literature and The Heath Anthology of American Literature.

The interdisciplinary nature of Professor Peck’s scholarship is reflected in his directorship, at Vassar, of two NEH Summer Institutes for College and University Faculty, one focused on American environmental literature and the other on Hudson River Valley literature and art. He also directed at Vassar a national NEH conference titled "American Studies and the Undergraduate Humanities Curriculum." 

Professor Peck’s awards include an ACLS Fellowship and two NEH Fellowships, as well as an Andrew W. Mellon Emeritus Fellowship. During his thirty years at Vassar he directed the American Studies Program and was the founding director of the Environmental Studies Program. This program’s outstanding senior thesis award is named for him. Professor Peck has served as chair of the Modern Language Association’s Division on Nineteenth-Century American Literature, and on numerous editorial boards, including that of the Oxford journal ASLE and The Hudson River Valley Review. He is a past member of the John Burroughs Association Board of Directors.

Before teaching at Vassar, Professor Peck was a tenured associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where in 1978 he was named the Harold J. Plous outstanding younger professor. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Iowa, under the direction of the distinguished scholar Sherman Paul, and his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in philosophy.