In Memoriam

We are grateful to those who came before us and for how they have shaped our department.

Melvin G. "Mel" Holli (1933-2016), was a founding member of the Department of History at what was then known as the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. An expert on urban history, particularly that of Detroit and Chicago, he had a strong interest in the history of mayoralty and of immigration to the United States.  He was the advisor to several generations of urban and Chicago historians and author or co-author of 18 books and edited volumes. Some of his former students counted among these co-authors and co-editors, and several of his books are still in print. Holli had formal training as an archivist and throughout his career collected manuscripts and historical documents related to the urban and immigration history of Chicago. Many of these documents, including the the speeches of Richard J. Daley and letters of Jane Addams, now form part of the library's Special Collections Department. He served as chair from 1991 to 1994 and retired in 2003.

Robert V. Remini (1921-2013), the nation's leading scholar of Jacksonian America, taught in the Department of History from 1965 until he retired in 1991, serving as the Department's first chair. The author of more than 20 books and the recipient of numerous awards, Bob was most famously the winner of the 1984 National Book Award for the final volume of his three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson. He later went on to serve as Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010. He published his last book in 2011, at the age of 89, entitled, At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union. Obituaries ran in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post.    

James F. Searing (1953-2012)
, a transformative figure in the field of African history, taught in the Department of History from 1992 until he died unexpectedly on December 3, 2012. Searing had served as Chair of the Department from 2005-2010, and was continuing his founding role as head of the Encounters graduate concentration at the time of his death. Searing's research, which focused on the history of Senegal, was enriched through an ethnographic approach to the peoples and cultures of Senegal, including their historical encounters with Islam, the Atlantic world, and French colonial rule. He published two important books, West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 1700-1860 (Cambridge, 1993) and “God Alone is King”: Islam and Emancipation in Senegal, 1859-1914: The Wolof Kingdoms of Kajoor and Bawol (Portsmouth, 2001), and was at the time of his death working on a third, on ethnicity and conversion through a fieldwork-based study of the Sereer-Safèn. He is missed for his sense of humor, his deep intellect, and his commitment to the Department. See a more complete obituary for further details about his work and reflections on his life from his students, colleagues, and family.

Daniel Scott Smith (1942-2011)
, a pioneer in social history, taught eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history at UIC from 1974 until his retirement in 2009. His studies of the histories of kinship relations, child-naming practices, fertility and feminism, and historiography, among other subjects, were widely cited and resulted in many honors, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation, and the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He was named a University Scholar in 1985. Committed to bringing the tools of the social sciences to the practice of history, he was editor of Historical Methods from 1979 to 1990 and an editorial board member for American Historical Review (1994-97) and other journals. He was president of the Social Science History Association in 1987-88. In November 2010, the association celebrated his career with a special session at its annual convention in Chicago.

Edward C. Thaden (1922-2008) was the senior Russian historian at UIC from 1968 until his retirement in 1992. He received his doctorate at the University of Paris, Pantheon-Sorbonne (1950). Among his many publications were: Conservative Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Russia (1954); Russia and the Balkan Alliance of 1912 (1965); Russia Since 1801: The Making of a New Society (1971); and The Rise of Historicism in Russia (1999). He edited, with his wife, Marianna Foster Thaden, The Western Borderlands of Russia, 1710-1870 (1984). He served as Chair of the history department at UIC (1971-1973); as Executive Secretary for the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (1982-1984); and as President of the Commission Internationale des Etudes Historiques Slaves (1995-2000). For further information on Thaden’s career, see the on-line obituary in the Perspectives of the American Historical Association for April 2009.  In 2012, the estate of Marianna F. Thaden presented an extremely generous gift UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to establish the Edward and Marianna Thaden Chair in Russian and East European Intellectual History. In 2014 Marina Mogilner, a specialist in Russian imperial history, became the first Thaden Chair.    

Bentley B. Gilbert (1924-2008), received his Ph.D. (1954) in Modern British history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He came to UIC in 1967 and retired in 1997. His books include: The Evolution of National Insurance in Great Britain: The Origins of the Welfare State (1966); British Social Policy, 1914-1939) (1970); and David Lloyd George: A Political Life, volume I (1987) and volume II (1992). Gilbert was Executive Secretary to the North American Conference on British Studies (1974-1978), editor of the Journal of British Studies (1978-1983), and chair of the department of history at UIC (1988-1991). He endowed the Bentley Brinkerhoff Gilbert Fellowship for UIC history graduate students to travel to the United Kingdom or Europe in the course of their dissertation research.

Stanley Mellon (1927-2008), having taught at Michigan, Berkeley, and Yale, came to UIC in 1969. He retired in 1995. Regarded by many of his colleagues as the most stimulating lecturer in a large department, Mellon published The Political Uses of History: A Study of Historians in the French Restoration (1958) and edited, with an introduction, M. Guizot’s Historical Essays and Lectures (1972). For an assessment of Stanley Mellon’s career, see the on-line edition of H-France Occasional Papers, 2009, “Stanley Mellon: An Appreciation” by David P. Jordan.

Peter D’Agostino (1962-2005) received his Ph.D. in the History of Christianity at the University of Chicago (1993). He taught at UIC from 2001 until his tragic death near his home in Oak Park, Illinois. His book, Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism (2004) won the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History (2003). Before coming to UIC, he was on the faculty at Stonehill College, which has since endowed an undergraduate Peter D’Agostino Prize for Excellence in History.  UIC's Peter D'Agostino Memorial Scholarship supports graduate study in religious, transnational, and immigration history.

Peter J. Coleman (1926-2004) taught American history at UIC from 1966-1971 and from 1976 to his retirement in 1987. A native of New Zealand, he earned his Ph.D. (1953) at the University of Texas at Austin. His three books, broadly on economic and social history, include: The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790-1860 (1963); Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607-1900 (1974); and New Zealand and the Origins of the American Welfare State (1987). For further information on Coleman’s career, see the on-line obituary in Perspectives, the journal of the American Historical Association.

John B. Wolf (1907-1996) spent much of his distinguished career as a French and Diplomatic historian at the University of Minnesota (1943-1966) and subsequently served as Professor of History at UIC from 1966 to his retirement in 1974. Indeed, he presided over the construction of a European history program at this relatively new urban university. As one of his colleagues, David P. Jordan, has remarked, “John Wolf’s idea of a good European history department was to have as many French historians as possible!” His books included: The Diplomatic History of the Baghdad Railroad (1936); The Emergence of the Great Powers, 1685-1715 (1951); France, 1814-1919: the Rise of a Liberal-Democratic Society (1963); Early Modern Europe, 1500-1789 (1972); The Barbary Coast: Algiers under the Turks, 1500 to 1830 (1979), and, perhaps most important, Louis XIV (1968). John Wolf served as President of the Society for French Historical Studies (1968-1969) and was made a Chevalier des Palmes Academiques by the French government (1979). In honor of John Wolf and his wife, the John B. and Theta Wolf Fellowship was endowed to defray research and travel expenses for UIC history graduate students in the field of European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern history.

Robert L. Nicholson (1908-1985) taught Medieval and European history at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and UIC from 1946 to his retirement in 1977. He was educated at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D in 1938. A distinguished historian of the Crusades, his books included: Joscelyn I: Prince of Edessa (1954); Joscelyn III and the Fall of the Crusader States, 1134-1199 (1973); and Tancred: A Study of his Career and Work (1978)

Richard Millman (1932-1983) received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (1963) and taught European and Diplomatic history at UIC from 1968 until his death. He was the author of British Foreign Policy and the coming of the Franco-Prussian War (1963) and Britain and the Eastern Question, 1875-1878 (1979).

Shirley A. Bill (1919-1980), an American constitutional and legal historian, received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1950). She taught at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and at UIC from 1947 until her death. Bill edited, with Louis Gottschalk, The Letters of Lafayette to Washington, 1777-1799 (1976). She was a member of the Executive Board of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (1975-1979). After her death, a fond undergraduate student endowed the Shirley A. Bill Award for Excellence in Teaching, to be awarded annually to a member of the UIC history department.

Peter McKeon (1938-1979) taught European and Medieval history at UIC from 1965, the year he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, until his death. He published Hincmar of Laon and Carolingian Politics (1978).

Gilbert Osofsky (1935-1974) received his Ph.D. from Columbia University (1963) and taught at UIC from 1963 until his death. He was a leading figure in the emerging field of African-American studies in the 1970s. His books include: Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto (1966); The Burden of Race: A Documentary History of Negro-White relations in America (1967); and Puttin’ on Ole Massa: The Slave Narratives of Henry Bibb, William Wells Brown, and Solomon Northup (1965). Following his death, the Department of History and friends founded an annual lectureship at UIC in his honor. Speakers for the Gilbert Osofsky Lectureship have included scholars such as Arnold Hirsch, David Brion Davis, George Fredrickson, Mary Beth Norton, Eric Foner, John Hope Franklin, Linda Kerber, Louise White, Marcus Rediker, and David Scott.

Gordon L. Goodman (1922-1966), historian of Britain, received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1956). He taught at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and at UIC from 1955 until his death. A specialist on British history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he published articles on Liberal Unionism and Gloucester City politics. After his death, his family, colleagues, and friends endowed the Gordon L. Goodman Award, to be given annually to a promising UIC undergraduate history major.