In this month’s Founders and Builders Series, we introduce you to Peter Brock, a gracious supporter of the CFHA and later honorary chairman. His legacy is remembered here by Jane Zavitz-Bond.

Peter Brock: World Peace Historian

By Jane Zavitz-Bond

Peter de Beauvoir Brock spent his life in the study, writing and teaching of the history of peace in the world. All his endeavours were interlinked as all aspects of peace, his focus and goal, are tied to one another. Peter understood that education was key to gaining an understanding of the past and bringing peace in the future.

Peter Brock

Peter Brock’s life began 30 January 1920 on the Channel Isle of Guernsey, where he lived until entering Exeter College at Oxford. His family had a long military tradition, including Sir Isaac Brock. Always finding his individual way, as a child he was not militarily minded. Perhaps awareness of World War I and its aftermath as he grew up led Peter to be a conscientious objector in World War II. He was in prison at Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs until released for alternative service in hospitals where he met Quaker pacifism with its links to social justice.

As a natural step after the war, Peter joined the Society of Friends Anglo-American Relief Mission in Poland, supported by UNRRA, where the need was great. He became the young head of the transport team with the office in Warsaw. Knowing the language was essential, he began his lifelong pursuit of Eastern European languages to permit fuller understanding of their history and current role as he wrote and taught. He earned two doctoral degrees, one from Oxford, and one from Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, merely the beginning of his carefully researched works covering the beginning to current times in Eastern Europe, and then the world’s peace history for the rest of his productive life. He never ceased learning the language of the area studied.

Although Peter did not join the Society of Friends, he kept his connection to Quakerism. Following his marriage to Carman Williamson in 1958, a Friend from Jamaica, the ties were even stronger. After his 1966 appointment to the Department of History at the University of Toronto, their home was always a welcoming place for f/Friends, refugees, and, of course, students. Sharing over a cup of tea quietly passed the spirit of peace in their daily lives over to those who entered the home. Living their faith made the message of peace authentic.

Peter Brock’s role in the Canadian Friends Historical Association began in 1978 after the passing of Arthur G. Dorland, the original honorary chairman of CFHA. Peter was then invited to accept that role. It was proper recognition for him and right for CFHA as the Peace Testimony is a fundamental block of the association’s mission for both research and outreach. Peter Brock remained quietly supportive for the rest of his life. We were honoured by his generosity.

Peter Brock did not write articles for the Journal, but his books related to peace history were reported in the CFHA Newsletter and the Canadian Quaker History Journal. As the foremost scholar on pacifism, his many books and articles focused on social justice work and fighting oppression. The Brock works continue to assist researchers and provide a valuable resource in the Arthur G. Dorland Friends Historical Research Collection. The bibliography by John Stanley lists the books, essays and articles: “Scholarly Publications by Peter de Beauvoir Brock,” revised in 2006, required twenty nine pages to record.[1] The appointments and honours Professor Peter Brock received always enhanced CFHA’s standing among historical societies by association with the esteemed scholar.

There are a number of books in the Dorland Library Collection which Peter donated after using them for his research. Special treasures are Besse’s Sufferings, in two volumes, rebound in the leather style of the era, which recount the suffering of Friends by imprisonment and confiscation of property for refusal to obey laws they believed were not enacted in the Light of Truth. When required for later research Peter would request books via interlibrary loan. He gave the CYM Archives letters he had written to his mother, a personal insight to his life, always written with care.

He also gave the CYM Archives copies of letters from Peggy Robbins Harrison, an American AFSC Polish Team worker who married and lived in Alberta. Paul Zavitz’s letters also tell of events with the Polish team. They called Peter ‘the student prince,’ aware of his bent, before his future as a scholar could be known. The study of languages was a tool. He began as a young student of Latin and Greek, and continued with the fifteen languages he learned in order to research fully. At the end of his life he was studying Japanese and Hindi.

Peter’s contributions to CFHA were supportive. Quietly done, and simply there; he was present for us. We benefitted from his publications which helped open the field of the history of pacifism. Peter Stanley wrote in his account of Peter Brock’s life, “Scholarship in Action, ” that “his contributions have proven useful to scholars in many countries, drawing attention to figures, movements, events, and even whole people’s that might have been ignored. His lack of prejudice but also sympathy for his subjects was a model to scholars and students.” His hundreds of articles and books reflect a great diversity of interests, “but as a group they reflect a central concern of Prof. Brock: a struggle against injustice and oppression…This concern for justice unified his scholarship as it did his life.”[2] His histories of southeastern Europe are studied after the Yugoslavian break-up and terrible war.

We all are indebted to Peter Brock for his studies in history and the spirit in which he undertook them. May we continue to follow both his methods and spirit.


[1] John Stanley, “Peter de Beauvoir Brock: Scholarship in Action,” The Canadian Quaker History Journal 72 (2007): 3-10.  This article by a former student and colleague presents a valuable account of Peter Brock’s life and work.

[2] John Stanley, Scholarly Publications by Peter de Beauvoir Brock, rev. ed., (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006). The preface reads: The listing for the period from 1951 to 1989 appeared earlier in “Essays in Honour of Peter Brock”, edited by John Stanley, Canadian Slavonic Papers, XXXI, no.2, 211-20. The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective, a volume of essays in honour of Peter Brock for his seventy-fifth birthday on 30 January 1995, edited by Harvey L. Dyck. (University of Toronto Press, 1996), also included a bibliography of “Books and Articles on Peace History by Peter Brock (425-428). The present bibliography reflects virtually the whole of Peter Brock’s scholarly endeavours, which began early in 1949 when he started work on his Ph. D. at the Jagiellonian  University of Crocow. An earlier edition of the bibliography appeared in the middle of 1999.


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