Academic journal article Kritika

Richard Hellie (1937-2009)

Academic journal article Kritika

Richard Hellie (1937-2009)

Article excerpt

The only time [Pliny the Elder] took from his work was for his bath.... When traveling he felt free from other responsibilities to give every minute to work.... For the same reason, too, he used to be carried about Rome in a chair. I can remember how he scolded me for walking; according to him I need not have wasted those hours, for he thought any time wasted which was not devoted to work.

--Pliny the Younger (1)

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

--Lord Kelvin (2)

A portion of Lord Kelvin's quotation adorns the bay window of the Social Science Research Building at the University of Chicago, where Richard Hellie enrolled as an undergraduate in 1954 and where he taught for more than four decades. Among the many historians who worked within these walls, perhaps no one more enthusiastically embraced Lord Kelvin's insight or more faithfully followed the prescription that Pliny attributed to his elder. Unlikely ever even to have pronounced the names of Foucault or Derrida, Richard depended upon the empirical methodologies of the social sciences, reading widely in economics, sociology, law, and classical anthropology. Until the last weeks of the illness that claimed him slowed his tempo, he was constantly at work, scornful of wasted time, hurrying on to new accomplishments.

Born 8 May 1937 in Waterloo, Iowa, Richard Hellie joined a family with deep Midwestern roots. His mother, Elizabeth Larsen Hellie, was a schoolteacher and his father, Ole Hellie, a journalist who worked for a series of newspapers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa before signing on with the Des Moines Register in 1941, and later with the Des Moines Tribune, where his prowess as copy editor was well known. (3) While living in Des Moines, Richard attended Roosevelt High School, where, I was astonished to learn, he was a member of the football team. (4) After completing eleventh grade in 1954, Richard went straight to the University of Chicago. He and the university proved a perfect fit, which no doubt explains why Richard spent most of the rest of his life there, graduating with an A.B. in 1958, an M.A. in 1960, and a Ph.D. in 1965. While at work on his dissertation, he spent one year at Harvard University's Russian Research Center (1962-63) and the following year at Moscow State University. After completing his degree, Richard taught at Rutgers for one year, but in 1966 he returned to Chicago as an assistant professor and never again left. At the time of his death, 24 April 2009, Richard was Thomas E. Donnelly Professor in History and chairman of the College Russian Civilization Program.

Richard's scholarship is well known and justly prized. (5) His 1965 dissertation, "Muscovite Law and Society: The Ulozhenie of 1649 as a Reflection of the Political and Social Development of Russia since the Sudebnik of 1589," was never published but laid the foundation for all Richard's subsequent research. His first book, Enserfment and Military Change in Muscovy, won the 1972 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association. (6) Addressing a field often remarked upon--the origins of serfdom in Russia--Richard developed a surprisingly complex argument that connected enserfment to technological change in the military, the social obsolescence of the old cavalry, and governmental intervention. The success of this book led to Richard's winning a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1973-74.

With Slavery in Russia, 1450-1725, Richard began to appropriate the research possibilities of computers, keeping track of slaves, their owners, sale prices, and much else, in the process providing a rich portrait of an institution that few Russian historians had thought worth their attention. (7) Deploying a wide array of comparative material and social science methodologies, Richard determined that, unlike slavery in the Americas, Muscovite slavery operated largely within the Russian ethnos and functioned most often as a form of social welfare for those brought to penury, especially during great crises in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. …

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