Deaths: Perry Duis

Perry Duis, UIC professor of history, 4/24/07.
Perry Duis. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

Perry Duis, professor emeritus of history, passed away Dec. 18 after an illness of several weeks. He was 76.

A scholar of urban social history with a particular focus on Chicago, Duis was a University of Chicago graduate student when he came to UIC as a teaching assistant in 1966. He was hired as an instructor in history at UIC in 1971, and he was promoted to assistant professor in 1975, to associate professor in 1984 and to professor in 1999. He retired from UIC in July 2010.

“Perry had an immense love for Chicago. You could read it in his scholarship and feel it in his classes, which were among the department’s most popular for several decades,” said Christopher Boyer, professor and chair of history. “He was a gifted teacher and kind-hearted colleague whom we will miss.”

Duis considered Chicago his “laboratory” and felt strongly about the contemporary relevance of teaching history. 

“History isn’t something that’s useless and you put it up on the shelf. The issues that animate these different historical periods are still with us,” he said in a 2007 interview with UIC News.

Two of his books, “Chicago: Creating New Traditions” and “We’ve Got a Job to Do: Chicago and World War II,” also were accompanied by museum exhibitions at the Chicago Historical Society, now called the Chicago History Museum, where he consulted on more than a dozen exhibits over his career. He also served as a consultant for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Duis co-authored over 75 columns for Chicago magazine, with some of the pieces serving as the foundation for his 1998 book, “Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920,” which detailed how average people survived day-to-day life in the city.

Duis also published “The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston,” a book offering a social, economic and political study of the urban institution and community gathering place, and numerous articles and book introductions.

Various local and national media outlets frequently sought his knowledge and perspective on the city’s history, and he appeared on several PBS programs as a featured expert.

Duis was a two-time recipient of the Sliver Circle Award and received the department of history’s Shirley Bill Award for teaching in 2010. He also served as an advisor to dozens of Ph.D. students.

In the previously referenced 2007 interview, he estimated that approximately 9,000 students had taken History 255, his survey course on the history of Chicago. He also taught courses in the history of illness and health in America and “History of the Future,” which examined how visionaries from ancient times to the present predicted changes in the world.

A native of Sterling, Illinois, Duis received a bachelor’s in history from Northwestern University, a master’s in history from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.

He is survived by his wife, Cathlyn Schallhorn, and son, Tim.

Plans for a memorial hosted by the department of history will be announced later.

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