Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Obituary: Robert F Byrnes, December 30, 1917-June 19, 1997

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Obituary: Robert F Byrnes, December 30, 1917-June 19, 1997

Article excerpt

Robert E Byrnes, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, died on June 19 at Ocean Isle, North Carolina, where he was taking part in an annual family gathering. In his last book, VO. Kliuchevskii: Historian of Russia (Indiana University Press, 1995), Professor Byrnes quoted a line from Henry Adams: "a teacher affects eternity: he can never tell when his influence stops."The line he chose for Kliuchevskii is an apt choice for an appreciation of his own life and work. A distinguished, much-published scholar with a long record of achievements both in and out of academia, Robert Byrnes valued especially, and was valued for, his role as teacher, and friend and mentor, for generations of students and many others who never had the privilege of enrolling in a course with him.

Born on December 30, 1917, and raised in a small town in up-state NewYork, Waterville (a community"civilized, generous, and patriotic," he later recalled), in a family of twelve children, Professor Byrnes cherished all his life the values his parents and teachers exemplified. At Amherst College he benefited, he once wrote, from a "broad liberal education by immensely dedicated faculty" He entered Harvard University in 1939, intending to pursue an awakening interest in Russian history. Since Harvard offered little in Russian studies, he took his Ph.D. degree in French history. In 1943 he became an analyst for military intelligence, specializing on the Japanese electronics industry. In 1945 he was offered a oneyear position at Swarthmore College, and an opportunity to teach a course on Russia.

Byrnes' career in Russian history proved one of the most distinguished and most significant for the development of Russian studies. He was among the first young scholars invited to the newly founded Russian Institute at Columbia University. He founded and led the Inter-University Committee on Travel Grants, which in several guises over the years proved vital to the growth of scholarship on Russia and East Europe, fostering, in the face of the deepening Cold War, an ever broader exchange of students and scholars to promote as much dialogue as possible. He founded and directed for many years the Russian and East European Institute at Indiana University, which became one of the leading American centers. He served as the elected president of major scholarly societies, including the American Catholic Historical Association (in 1961) and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, the main organization for Russian and East European studies in this country. …

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