In memoriam: Jeffrey Russell (1934-2023)

The History Department was saddened to learn that our colleague Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Russell passed away on April 12. We would like to share with you the message of condolence shared with our campus community by Chancellor Yang and the obituary written by our colleague Professor Emerita Sarah Cline, below.

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

I write to share with you the sad news that Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Russell passed away on April 12.

Professor Russell joined our campus in 1979 as a faculty member in our Department of History, with a focus on Medieval European history. He was a distinguished scholar and prolific author, as well as a deeply devoted teacher and mentor. In 1985, he was elected Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, heralded by his department chair and colleagues as “a rare honor, reserved for only the most distinguished scholars in a field that is not limited to History, but that embraces as well medievalists in Art, Literature, Philosophy, Theology, Music, Church History, and Art History.” In 1991 he was recognized by his peers with our campus’s highest faculty honor, the Faculty Research Lectureship.

Our hearts go out to his wife, Pamela, his four children, and his extended family, as well as his wide circle of friends, colleagues, and former students. Our campus flag will be lowered in honor and memory of Professor Russell on June 1. A Funeral Mass will be held for Dr. Russell at 11:00 am on July 7, 2023, at the Santa Barbara Mission.

I am honored to share the following remembrance from his family, Professor Emerita Sarah Cline, and our Department of History.

Jeffrey Burton Russell (1934-2023)

Jeff Russell was an internationally renowned historian of medieval European history and Christian theology. He is best known for five scholarly volumes on the history of the Devil, published by Cornell University Press. He preferred two later books, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (1991) and A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence (1997), a study of the history and meaning of heaven in Christian thought from the beginnings to the time of Dante. Other works dealt with the history of Christian spirituality, European witchcraft, and Christianity in Western Civilization, many translated into a plethora of foreign languages, ranging from Romance languages to Japanese and Chinese to Turkish, Serbo-Croatian and Norwegian, German and Polish. He spoke and wrote in eight languages.

Born in Fresno, California in 1934 into a family whose roots in California date to the Gold Rush, he grew up in Berkeley and attended University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a B.A. in 1955. He received his PhD from Emory University in 1960. In 1959-60 he was a Fulbright Fellow at Université de Liège, Belgium. After teaching briefly at University of New Mexico, he became a Harvard Junior Fellow 1961-62. He returned to California, teaching at University of California, Riverside from 1961 to 1975, rising through the ranks to become Full Professor. While there, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968-69 and in 1972-73, was a Humanities Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He also served as Associate Dean of the Graduate Division 1967-75, during the political tumult of the era. From 1975-77, he was the Grace Professor of Medieval Studies and served as Director of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. But he felt the strong pull of the Golden State to return. In 1977 he accepted the position of Dean of Graduate Studies at Sacramento State University. From 1979 until his retirement from teaching in 1998, he was Professor of History at University of California, Santa Barbara, helping build a top-ranked program in Medieval European history. In 1985, he was elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. At UCSB, he was awarded the 1990-91 Faculty Research Lectureship, the highest award given to faculty by the Academic Senate. He published nineteen single-author books, wrote scores of articles, essays, and book reviews. He appeared in TV programs including on PBS, the BBC, British TV4, A&E, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel, as well as being interviewed on radio. Generous with his time, he mentored many graduate students as dissertation chair or co-chair, and collaborated with colleagues. Retiring from teaching in 1998, he viewed his next chapter as a permanent sabbatical, remaining active as a scholar.

From time to time, he said that his CV only revealed some aspects of life. He deeply valued the connections to his family and others whom he loved, the beauty of the earth and the heavens above. Hiking and backpacking in the Sierras were a joy to him, and he shared his deep enthusiasm for the mountains with family and friends. He was deeply concerned about wilderness conservation. He sacrificed financially to preserve the family property of redwood forest rather than log it. His love of nature was inseparable from his love of God, and vice versa. Almost as much as he loved theology, he loved learning about physics and biology, and was an amateur astronomer, seeing no contradiction whatever between belief in God and scientific study. Although he had broad musical tastes including American folk music and the Beatles, his love of Mozart was supreme. Almost as sacred to him was Johann Sebastian Bach, Renaissance polyphony, and Gregorian chant. In literature he valued the great story tellers, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and works by Madeline L’Engle, reading them to his children. For this serious scholar of medieval Latin, a fun project was his collaboration with Madeline L’Engle, publishing Ruga in Aevis: A Latin Translation of A Wrinkle in Time (1991), a young adult fantasy novel glimpsing the war between light and darkness. In modern literature, he admired the works of Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps surprisingly, he was an avid fan of classic Disney animated characters Mickey Mouse and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. A devoted family man, he married Diana Mansfield Russell, whom he met at Berkeley, and with her raised their four children. After her death, he married Pamela Russell, who survives him. Also surviving him are his children, Jennifer (Mike), Mark (Sherry), William (Ky), and Penelope; four grandchildren, Emily, David, Anna, and Trillium; and godchildren Xoco and Sarah. His was a long and full life, well lived. A Catholic convert, his faith sustained him to the end. He will be sorely missed.


Henry T. Yang