PROFESSOR Peter J Parish was a quiet but immensely influential member of the modern history department at Glasgow University. He epitomised a different era in higher eduction. In a department presided over by Professor Esmond Wright, the television don, renowned authority on Benjamin Franklin and all things American, he developed the American history courses.

He was, and remained, the essential gentleman scholar. His balanced judgments, quick, quiet wit, twinkle of his eyes, and sheer brilliance endeared him to his colleagues. His infectious fascination with the United States never ceased. He climbed the greasy pole of academic success devoid of enemies.

He was one of several interesting Glasgow characters who gave considerable time to individual students and staff and their personal and academic problems. His door was

never closed.

As for most of his post-war generation, things took time. Life, thought, and expression were maturing processes, not the result some hasty excursion into an archive and a limited monograph. Teaching, students needs, research, and publication came in that order. That was true for colleagues of his generation who joined in numerous student activities, receptions, reading parties at The Burn, debates, football and hockey matches with

staff and students from other Scottish universities.

Peter's final-year dinner speech in 1966 is still remembered from for wit, erudition, and telling pauses. He made the university experience a far more rounded one than today when students are seen as a barrier to a day in the archives. His force of personality won him respect. He made his students feel that they were more than a mere registry number.

Born in London and an evacuee to Oxfordshire during the Second World War, Peter graduated with first class honours from London University in 1950. After National Service with the RAF, he embarked on a PhD at London and spent a year as visiting fellow at Bowdoin College, Maine. Associated with Hale Bellot and Harry Allen, he was one of a rare new breed, an Americanist. Academic jobs were few, particularly in American history - ''what history?''. He became a librarian in Manchester University, which then boasted one of the first and finest American history departments. There I first met Peter and his close colleague, Donald Ratcliffe, later the librarian at Cambridge University, both in their rather French berets, as they bought the weekly Catholic heavyweight, The Tablet, from me outside the library. There he met his wife, Norma, a fellow librarian.

His long-awaited sabbatical in America unfortunately coincided with his beloved West Ham winning the FA Cup for the first time in 1964.

Peter played a prominent role in the formative years of the British Association for American Studies, its journal and conferences. He became chairman in 1977-80. He developed the annual conference for Scottish secondary schools on the American Civil War and so attracted many lively students to Glasgow. They are now to be found at the World Bank, merchant banking, the diplomatic corps, academia, law, business, and teaching. He expanded their horizons massively.

At Glasgow from 1958 to 1976, his crafted lectures and his annual talk on the movie, Shane, as the guide to American history were memorable occasions. He had many remarkable students including the three friends Donald Dewar, John Smith, and Bob McLaughlan, reputedly the finest graduate in arts in the twentieth century.

He and his later Glasgow colleague, Professor William R Brock, the post-civil war authority, put Glasgow American studies on the academic map. Peter's major book on The American Civil War showed him at his best. Even in America in a fiercely competitive and crowded field, his work was recognised as the finest single volumed study of the conflict. That brought him the Bonar chair of Modern History at Dundee University 1976-83. After serving as dean he left to become director of The Institute of United States Studies at London University 1983-92, succeeding Esmond Wright. The same kindly scholar welcomed Ivy League professors, visiting Harmsworth professors at Oxford, young inexperienced academics from all parts and raw graduate students alike.

Professor emeritus at London University, he was visiting professor of American studies at Middlesex Univisety and Mellon Senior Research Fellow in American History at Cambridge.

In recent years, his health gave cause for concern. He bore that with stoical good humour. Recovering from recent major heart surgery he suffered a relapse and died on May 18.

He is survived by his widow, Norma, and daughter, Helen.

Professor Peter Parish, historian; born 1929, died May 18, 2002.