In Memoriam: Robert W. Johannsen, 1925-2011

Robert W. Johannsen, J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Illinois, died in Urbana, Illinois, on August 16, 2011, six days shy of his 86th birthday.

Best known for Stephen A. Douglas (1973), his biography of the Little Giant, Johannsen also wrote extensively on Lincoln, the Pacific Northwest in the frontier period, and the U.S.-Mexican War.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Johannsen graduated from Reed College in 1948, after his studies were interrupted by combat service in World War II. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. After teaching a year at Washington and five years at the University of Kansas, he joined the Department of History at Illinois in 1959.

He attracted hundreds of students to his courses on nineteenth-century American history, the Jacksonian era and the Civil War. He also directed more than 35 dissertations.

In his writings, he endeavored to document the importance of Douglas in his own day. He sought to explain, not to defend, the Little Giant. Conversely, he attempted to moderate the popular, and even the professional, tendency to magnify Lincoln, to lift him beyond his own time and place.

Johannsen published not only a number of books and anthologies but also dozens of articles and reviews. The list of his writings in Politics and Culture of the Civil War Era: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Johannsen (2006) runs to 20 pages.

Johannsen was deeply committed to the study of the past and devoted beyond measure to teaching it. Those fortunate to have known him will always cherish the gentleness, warmth, and civility that pervaded his conversation and demeanor.

Posted: August 26, 2011
Tagged: In Memoriam