Peter Conn retired from Penn as Vartan Gregorian Professor of English and Professor of Education, and was a member of the graduate groups in the history of art and American civilization, a member of the urban studies and Asian-American studies faculties, and an affiliated member of the Center for East Asian Studies. His publications include The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917 (Cambridge University Press, 1983; paperback editions, 1988 and 2008), and Literature in America (Cambridge University Press, 1989), which was a main selection of Associated Book Clubs (UK). Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1996; Paperback 1998), was chosen as a "New York Times Notable Book," was listed among the best 25 books of 1996 by Publishers Weekly and among the best books of the year by Library Journal, was included among the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography, and received the Athenaeum Award.
Conn's The American 1930s: A Literary History, was published by Cambridge in 2009. His most recent book, Adoption: a Brief Social and Cultural History, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013. He has published editions of Washington Square, by Henry James, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, and Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. In 2009, The Teaching Company released Conn's video course and book on "American Best Sellers."
Conn's books and chapters have been translated into eight languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Romanian, and Korean. He has lectured at numerous American universities, and internationally in Ireland, England, Russia, Thailand, Romania, Japan, and China. He has also given talks at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other institutions, on a number of American artists, including Edward Hopper, William Christenberry, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Maxfield Parrish, Charles Sheeler, Wharton Esherick, and The Eight.
A John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Conn has directed National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) seminars for college and high school teachers, and was the recipient of an NEH Humanities Focus grant. He has received several awards for distinguished teaching, including the Ira Abrams award, the Mortarboard Award, and the Lindback Award, the university's senior teaching prize. Conn has served on the selection committee of the PEN Albrend award for non-fiction. He has received the Exemplary Leadership Award of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. From 1987 through 1995, Conn acted as senior consultant on curriculum development to the Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools.
Conn has served as literary consultant on numerous television projects, including the Emmy-winning series, "The American Short Story," adaptations of novels by James Baldwin and Saul Bellow, and a video biography of John Dos Passos. He served as principal literary advisor to "Oprah's Book Club" for The Good Earth. His teaching projects have included College 005: The Great Books; English 401: Teaching American Studies, which places undergraduates as teaching assistants in a Philadelphia high school; English 886, a graduate course that combines the study of literature and composition with teacher training; and, for the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia, a course in children's literature.
Since 1993, Conn has served as visiting professor at the University of Nanjing, in the People's Republic of China. In 2011, and again in 2013, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Conn lectured in West China on topics in American studies.
Conn has served as Dean of the College, executive director of the Philadelphia Committee for College Placement, chair of the graduate groups in American Civilization and English, Faculty Master of Robert Hill College House and Community House and deputy and interim provost. He was the founding Faculty Director of Civic House, the university's center for community service, and the co-founder and director of the Urban Education minor program. Chairman Emeritus of the Welcome House adoption agency, he has chaired the Major Gifts committee of the Pennsylvania/Delaware chapter of JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
From 2016 to 2019, Conn served as Executive Director of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
Peter Conn and his wife Terry have four children, Steven, David, Alison, and Jennifer, and (at last count) eight grandchildren.