Derek Pearsall, 1931-2021

Sad news:

Professor Derek Pearsall, co-founder with the late Professor Elizabeth Salter of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York, passed away on Thursday 14 October, aged 90. He was an enormous influence on many of us who flourished under his tutelage and his scholarly reputation helped to establish York’s CMS as an outstanding beacon of teaching and research. May he rest in peace.

According to Wikipedia, Pearsall received an MA from the University of Birmingham in 1952, was Gurney Professor of English Literature at Harvard, and delivered the British Academy’s Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture in 1998. I found his work very enlightening and enjoyed speaking with him at conferences. He will be missed. 

Susan Reynolds

I quite liked this remembrance of Susan Reynolds, by Jonathan Jarrett:

In celebration of the life of Susan Reynolds

It has become all too frequent a thing, as I get older and those who have helped me along my career remain the same distance older than me, that I have to put aside whatever I had meant to post on a given blog day because news reaches me that somebody who deserves celebration or memorial has sadly died, and thus it is today. Susan Reynolds, whom I feel as if I’ve mentioned on this blog a hundred times, passed away on Thursday morning, with family and friends around her, I am told. (There don’t seem to be any obituaries up yet; I have to thank Fraser McNair and David Ganz for making sure I knew.) She was 92. I am very sad about this, because I enjoyed her work and indeed her company a lot and I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve had a couple of goes at writing this as tidings of doom, and it just won’t write like that because everything I remember of her was basically uplifting and encouraging. So I blog not to mourn Susan but to celebrate her, and I hope that if you knew her you can do likewise.

I suppose that for most people, or rather for people who didn’t have the privilege of hanging around the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London a while, Susan Reynolds is a name one knows primarily from her books, and especially Kingdoms and Communities in Medieval Europe and the almost-infamous Fiefs and Vassals. There were actually more than that, including two Variorum collections of essays and her last actual monograph, completed in 2014 when she was a mere 85, plus a plethora of useful and incisive chapters and articles I could cite, but those two books especially kept her on reading lists across the English-speaking world within quite a short space of their publication and will continue to do so for a while yet. That’s because there are few people who could deal as well as Susan did with all the difficulties of interpreting massed textual sources by people whose thoughtworlds were a millennium removed from our own and still extract some kind of synthesis about what they did and why, often over really quite a scale. So there’s all that, the kind of scholarly legacy we might all hope to leave but must know that few of us will, but if you know Susan’s name it’s because you know some or all of that already. What might not be so obvious, without having met her or talked to her, is quite how remarkable it was that any of that came to be, because Susan’s passage through the life academic was not by any means what would now pass for normal.

Now, I’m not going to recount her life here, partly because who am I to do that and so on, but mostly because she did it herself, in an interview for the IHR in 2008, and it’s online here. The sound file is gone from there, but happily, if ironically, the Internet Archive has preserved it where the IHR’s own archive pages have not, so there you can not just read it but hear it—and you don’t have a full impression of Susan unless you know how she talked. So I very much recommend giving that a listen. But, either in text or in sound, gather in the first fifteen minutes or so, in which she laid out her scholarly biography, because it’s sort of amazing, for at least these reasons:

  1. she did not get a first at undergraduate, she had no MA, no Ph. D., and her only postgraduate qualification was a diploma in archive management;
  2. she was never a professor; in fact I’m not sure she was ever promoted in any of her jobs; and
  3. much of her substantial work was only begun, let alone published, after she retired at age 58 from what was only her second university post; even Kingdoms and Communities only came out three years before that.

It’s easy to say to all that, well, things were different then (and she repeatedly stressed those differences in the interview), but that makes it sound as her work also dates from some distant era, whereas actually, Fiefs and Vassals came out when I was an undergraduate; Kingdoms and Communities went into its second edition just as I finished being an undergraduate; and her last book came out when I was working in Birmingham. And this was a retiree, turning out work that overthrew or updated whole subfields in ways that young ambitious scholars would have suffered greatly to achieve. In her sixties into seventies, in other words, Susan Reynolds became a whole new big thing in the field. If anyone’s life demonstrates that it’s never too late, surely this is it.

Read the whole thing

Donald Kagan, 1932-2021

From YaleNews:

Donald Kagan, celebrated historian of the ancient world and revered teacher

Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Classics and History, prominent for his scholarship, teaching, and social and political commentary, and a longtime colorful figure at Yale, died Aug. 6 in a Washington D.C. retirement home. He was 89.

Kagan, who came to Yale in 1969, was a distinguished scholar of Ancient Greek history. His monumental four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War (1969–1987) was characterized by George Steiner as “the foremost work of history produced in North America in the 20th century.” Of the same work Joseph Manning, William K. and Marilyn M. Simpson Chair in History and in Classics, remarked, “Despite the vast mountain range of scholarship on Thucydides and the war that has been published since Kagan’s four-volume study, it remains required reading by all historians.”

Kagan’s gift was narrative: he was a superb story teller. In just the same way that he could mesmerize friends with a recapitulation of the movie “The Godfather,” or a crucial Yankees-Red Sox game, he could captivate readers when writing about complicated battles of the Peloponnesian wars.

His other scholarly works include “Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy” (1990), which one critic called “faithful to his lifelong fascination with Pericles;” “On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace” (1995), which expanded on why states go to war; and his later one-volume synthesis of the war that sundered the ancient world, “The Peloponnesian War” (2003), hailed by one critic as “fresh, clear and fast moving.”

More at the link

Susan Reynolds, 1929-2021

Sad news: the great Susan Reynolds has died, per Pauline Stafford on Twitter. Susan was the author of Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe 900-1300 (1984), which I found very useful for my work. She was most famous for her book Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (1994), which launched a great deal of discussion among medievalists about the concept of “feudalism” (i.e. “the f-word”), which she thought was essentially meaningless and should be eliminated from the historian’s vocabulary. She was also personally kind to me when I studied in London as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. Requiescat in pace

Dr. Richard Summers

Dr. Theresa Ast and Dr. Richard Summers in 2007. Photo: JG.

With sadness we acknowledge the death today of Dr. Richard Summers, professor emeritus of mathematics at Reinhardt University, of liver cancer. Dick received a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech and was a professor at Reinhardt from 1996 until his retirement in 2015. He was a dedicated teacher, a voracious reader, and a kind soul, and continued to teach as an adjunct at Reinhardt until last year. He will be missed! He is survived by his wife Pat and numerous children, stepchildren, and grandchildren. Please keep them in your prayers. 

UPDATE: A colleague writes:

I am not sure if this message went out already,  Kristy DeBord would like me to pass on that she is collecting donations for Dick’s funeral and medical expenses. He supported many people, and this will be a great help to his family at this difficult time. Please don’t feel obliged but if you would like to donate, Kristy is collecting this week and will give it to Pat on Friday.

For those of you who did not know Dick Summers, I will tell you that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He had a heart of gold and was such a blessing to countless Reinhardt students and colleagues. He was without a doubt a genius but so incredibly patient working with our weakest math students over and over again in the Center for Student Success and in his classes.

He and Pat were love birds through and through. They loved to read out loud to each other and always had a ton of books going – even in the hospital she was reading to him. He was peacefully groggy these last days.  I was saying a bunch of sappy but true stuff about what a great mentor he was etc. but he only really perked up twice – once when I said something about geometry that got a big smile, but the best was when he heard Pat’s voice as she came closer, he started beaming. It was precious and amazing and a blessing to witness.

Reinhardt, Waleska UMC, and the world will not be the same without him.

UPDATE: Another colleague writes:

As a former student and first mathematics graduate of Reinhardt, I can attest to Dick’s supernatural intelligence and infinite patience. I was an undecided major student who took geometry to try out mathematics at a college level. His knowledge and passion for this field inspired me, and he is the reason I am a math teacher.

When I had the chance last year to join Reinhardt as an adjunct professor, he was the first person I wanted to see. It saddens me to know his health was keeping him from teaching.

Today, my heart and soul are hurting as he was my mentor and a father figure to me. I remember so much of him and Pat like our trip to Mercer University for a mathematics Conference and our mission trip to Miami.

Although I am sad that I won’t see his bright wide open eyes on this Earth again, my heart rejoices knowing that heaven is celebrating the entrance of a great and faithful servant of God. To me he is and will always be the smartest man on Earth (this is what I always respectfully called him since I met him).

Michael Collins, 1930-2021

Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin. Wikipedia.

The Command Module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission, Michael Collins, has died at the age of 90. Only Buzz Aldrin, the Lunar Module pilot, remains with us. I have often wondered about the “third wheel” of these missions, the guy who had to stay in orbit around the Moon while the other two guys got to walk on it. Collins did create the Apollo 11 mission patch, and as he orbited the far side of the Moon, became the “most isolated human in history.” But obviously he was essential to the success of the mission, and according to Glenn Reynolds was a “very, very smart guy.” His book, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys can be ordered on Amazon. 

The Duke of Edinburgh, 1921-2021

First Floor Tarpley acknowledges the death today of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort of H.M. the Queen, at the age of 99 at Windsor Castle. May he rest in peace.

His arms, depicted on the funeral hatchment above, were a quartering of 1. Denmark 2. Greece 3. Battenberg/Mountbatten and 4. Edinburgh. From The Gazette, here is an image of Philip’s Garter stall plate, which also includes his crest and motto:

Walt LaFeber, 1933-2021

From the New York Times (hat tip: Sean Mulligan):

Walter LaFeber, Historian Who Dissected Diplomacy, Dies at 87

Challenging convention from all political perspectives, he mesmerized his students at Cornell, many of whom went on to hold foreign policy posts or professorships.

Walter LaFeber, a Cornell University history professor and author whose unvarnished version of American diplomacy drew hundreds of students and spectators to his Saturday morning lectures, and whose acolytes went on to influence the nation’s foreign policy, died on Tuesday in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 87.

Professor LaFeber (pronounced la-FEE-ber) did not like to label himself or others, but he was widely considered to be a “moderate revisionist.” He was a disciple of the so-called Wisconsin School of diplomatic history inspired by William Appleman Williams, which challenged conventional accounts of American exceptionalism by suggesting that United States foreign policy was also motivated by imperialism.

Professor LaFeber valued the roles that institutions played in shaping history, but he never underestimated the influence of individuals. He enlivened his books and lectures by fleshing out characters from Aaron Burr and John Quincy Adams to George W. Bush and even Michael Jordan. His book “Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism” (1999) was about basketball as a metaphor for globalization.

While he could condemn without demonizing, he had no compunctions about exposing hypocrisy. Just before Independence Day in 1983, in response to Secretary of State George P. Shultz’s declaration that the United States would not tolerate Central American revolutionaries “shooting their way into the government,” Professor LaFeber wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article, “Given George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s dependence on American riflemen, it is well for Fourth of July celebrations that Mr. Shultz’s law cannot be applied retroactively.” (Mr. Shultz died last month.)

His scholarly career “indicates that he had imbibed the Wisconsin lessons of empiricism, criticism, and a suspicion of power,” Andrew J. Rotter and Frank Costigliola wrote in 2004 in the journal Diplomatic History.

“In his nearly half-century of writing,” they concluded, “LaFeber has won deep respect among scholars and students of U.S. foreign relations for his ability to analyze a complex historical topic with clarity and brilliance.”

Professor LaFeber thought the war in Vietnam was a mistake, resulting from contradictory policy objectives. He was also a champion of racial justice. But he argued in 1969 that Black students armed with rifles who seized the student union building at Cornell had gone too far. He resigned as chairman of the history department to protest attempts by the university’s president to placate the demonstrators.

“What a university is all about is rational discourse,” he was quoted as saying in “Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University” (1999), by Donald Alexander Downs. “What these people were doing was essentially raping the major principle of the university. Once you introduce any kind of element of force into the university, you compromise the institution. To me, that is totally unforgivable.”

He continued: “I’m a relativist in terms of object and conclusion. I don’t think I am necessarily right. What I am absolutist about is the procedure you use to get there. Which means the university always has to be open and it cannot be compromised.”

His students included the future foreign policy experts Samuel R. Berger, who served as national security adviser under President Bill Clinton, and Stephen J. Hadley, who held the same position under George W. Bush; Eric S. Edelman, who was under secretary of defense for policy in the Bush administration; William Brownfield, who served as assistant secretary of state under Barack Obama; former Representative Thomas Downey, a Long Island Democrat; and the history professors Susan A. Brewer of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Lorena Oropeza of the University of California, Davis, and Nancy F. Cott of Harvard.

“His brilliant lectures on American foreign relations at Cornell persuaded me to specialize in diplomatic history as a graduate student,” Professor Brewer said by email. “Along with the Monroe Doctrine and the Yalta Conference, there was room for Herman Melville, Jane Addams and John Wayne.”

Professor Cott recalled: “Since I was only a student in his large lecture class, I assumed he did not know who I was. But when I published a book about Mary Ritter Beard in 1991, LaFeber, who was a great admirer of Charles Beard, Mary Beard’s husband and sometime co-author, wrote me a fan letter about the book! I was stunned and felt extremely honored by his awareness as much as his praise.”

More at the link

Cyril Mango, 1928-2021

Paul Halsall informs me that the noted Byzantinist Cyril A. Mango has died at the age of 92. Among Mango’s many works are The Art of Byzantine Empire (1972), Hagia Sophia: A Vision for Empires (1997); and The Oxford History of Byzantium (2002). 

His older brother, Andrew Mango, biographer of Kemal Atatürk, died in 2014. 

Michael Clanchy, 1936-2021

From Kate Clanchy on Twitter:

This is thread for my father, Michael Clanchy, who has died aged 84.

Michael was born in 1936, and travelled at 6 weeks old to Moscow where his father was Naval Attaché. In 1939, he was on the last train back, a journey he never forgot. Aged 5 he was at prep school, and from there he went to Ampleforth, and Merton College Oxford.

Michael was one the most distinguished medievalists of his time. He wrote the textbook everyone still uses, England and its Rulers, and the groundbreaking From Memory to Written Record, about why we started to write things down.

If that makes him sound conventional, he wasn’t. He didn’t get a first, he never worked in an Oxbridge college. He was just original and tenacious and wrote wonderfully clear prose. The medieval world was always near to him: he could make you see it.

I second this. His scholarship was first-rate, and he was personally very kind and helpful to me when I was researching my dissertation in London.