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Bernard Semmel (1928-2008)

Published: August 23, 2012

Bernard Semmel, a distinguished historian of modern Britain and longtime member of the North American Conference of British Studies, died on August 18, 2008. He published eleven books as well as dozens of articles and reviews in major journals in the United States, Britain, and Canada. He had few equals in the breath and depth of his knowledge of the Victorian and Edwardian intellectual milieu. His books ranged from his first, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895-1914 (1960), which remains a classic in its field, to his last, George Eliot and the Politics of National Inheritance (1994).

During his long career, he received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim foundation, and the National Humanities Center. He was the editor of the Journal of British Studies from 1969-1974 and a member of the Royal Historical Society.

Professor Semmel received his BA from the College of the City of New York and his MA. And Ph.D from Columbia University. He began his teaching career in 1956 at Park College, Parkville, Missouri. In 1960 he joined the faculty of the Long Island Center of the State University of New York at Oyster Bay, which moved to its permanent home at Stony Brook in 1962. He chaired the department from 1966-1969. After he retired, he became a Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. Throughout his career, he was a dedicated and inspiring teacher and mentor. His student, Mrinalini Sinha, praised him for his intellectual integrity, his demonstration through his own work that disciplinary boundaries are historically contingent, and his success in linking his principled traditionalism to a radically liberating view of the historian.

Semmel is survived by his wife Maxine, his son Stuart and daughter-in-law Tina, and four grandchildren. His family, friends, colleagues, and students will remember him as a tough-minded, but always generous and compassionate teacher, intellectual, and human being.

Barbara Harris with help from Mrinilini Sinha.

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