Walther Kirchner, 99, professor of history and author of textbooks

July 03, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Walther Kirchner, who taught European, Russian and Baltic history and was the author of several textbooks, died of cancer Wednesday at Roland Park Place, where he had lived for 20 years. He was 99.

He taught at the University of Delaware for a quarter-century and in later years held its H. Rodney Sharp chair in history. He moved to Baltimore and continued his research at the Johns Hopkins University and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Born in Berlin, he was a graduate of Franzosisches Gymnasium in Berlin and sailed in 1926 to New York, where his family wanted him to gain business experience. He became a reporter for a German film magazine and went home after a world cruise.

Dr. Kirchner settled in the United States in the 1930s and earned bachelor's and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the faculty of the University of Delaware in Newark in 1945 and taught there until retiring in 1970.

Friends said he was a prolific writer and was known for his meticulous scholarship. He was the author of numerous scholarly articles and a pair of college texts, Western Civilization to 1500 and Western Civilization Since 1500.

"He never had anyone research for him," said a friend, Virginia Collie, who lives in Riderwood. "He knew every fact and every date. He might just as well have had eyes in the back of his head."

Friends said that he had a way of keeping students on their toes by purposely misnaming a king or famous figure in hopes that they would correct him.

"He was a distinguished man in his field," said Dr. John A. Munroe, former head of the University of Delaware history department, who lives in Newark. "He was very much the German professor. He was very formal with most people. He was sharp and quick."

Dr. Kirchner specialized in Russian history and wrote about Russian-European trade relations. He was also the author of Russian Economic Relations With the West; Studies in Russian-American Relations, 1820-1860 and was the U.S. editor of a German journal on Eastern European history, Jahrbucher fur die Geschichte Osteuropas.

"I think he was sad about the turn German history took and did not enjoy teaching it," Munroe said. "He told me, `Hitler was not crazy. He was evil pure.'"

Dr. Kirchner was a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton and the Max Planck Institute at the University of Gottingen in Germany. He was also a past president of the American Society for Reformation Research.

"He was a well-respected professor in the classroom and on campus. He had a considerable presence. He was always well-dressed but was never flashy," said Raymond Wolters, a University of Delaware history professor. "He was a man of substance. He was extremely knowledgeable. And he could be intimidating to junior professors."

Colleagues said that after retiring from the University of Delaware and living in Princeton, N.J., he moved to Baltimore to be near Johns Hopkins and the Pratt Library, where he did research. He continued to publish articles until several years ago.

His wife of more than 40 years, the former Frederica Mosher, died in 1995.

Graveside services will be held at noon Tuesday at Quaker Cemetery in Princeton, N.J.

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