Dr. Anthony John R. Russell-Wood, longtime Hopkins professor

History professor, 70, was expert on Latin America and had been chairman of the Maryland Committee for the Humanities

August 20, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Anthony John R. Russell-Wood, a distinguished Johns Hopkins University professor of history whose field of expertise was pre-Columbian and colonial Latin America, died Aug. 13 of melanoma at his Lutherville home. He was 70.

Dr. Russell-Wood, who had been a member of the Hopkins faculty since 1971, was a prolific author and one of the world's foremost historians of Brazil and the Portuguese seaborne empire. He had not retired.

Dr. Russell-Wood, the son of educators, was born in Corbridge-On-Tyne, Wales, and was raised in Lancashire.

After graduating from the Rossall School in Lancashire, he earned his bachelor's degree in 1961 from Oxford University. In 1963, he earned a master's degree, and four years later, a doctorate in modern history, both from Oxford.

Dr. Russell-Wood also held a diploma in Portuguese from Coimbra University in Coimbra, Portugal.

In his curriculum vitae, Dr. Russell-Wood explained why he chose to become an historian, which was not an instant career choice.

He wrote that it was "derived from the gradual realization that many of the sources I was reading on medieval Portugal or the chronicles of the Portuguese in Asia, from the perspective of a student of literature or because of their philological content, possessed a strong historical component which I found irresistible."

Dr. Russell-Wood had spent more than six years living in Brazil, where he studied and conducted research.

At Hopkins, he taught diverse courses such as graduate seminars on Brazil and colonial Latin America, and undergraduate courses such as "The Age of Exploration," "The African Diaspora," "Shipwreck and Empire," and "Gold and Society."

His work often found its way into National Public Television and History Channel documentaries.

In a statement, William T. Rowe, chairman of the history department at Hopkins, described Dr. Russell-Wood as the "solid backbone of Hopkins' history department for many decades."

"John was the one colleague you could always count on for help, or turn to for advice," he said. "He graciously mentored me ever since my own arrival here, as he has so many others thereafter. It is no exaggeration to say that he was loved by us all."

Dr. Russell-Wood had served as director of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Program in Latin American Studies and twice as chairman of the history department from 1984 to 1990 and from 1996 to 1999.

He contributed significantly to the Center for Africana Studies and served on the academic council at Homewood.

In 2001, Dr. Russell-Wood was named to the endowed Herbert Baxter Adams Professorship in History, succeeding his friend, the late Philip Curtin, founder of U.S. scholarly studies in African history at Hopkins.

Richard L. Kagan, Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor of History at Hopkins, was an old friend.

"John was probably No. 2 in his field in the U.S. There is no question about that. He was well respected by both his undergraduate and graduate students," Dr. Kagan said. "He'll be greatly missed."

Dr. Kagan, a professor of modern European history with an emphasis on Spain and the Iberian experience, said he and Dr. Russell-Wood worked "hand-in-glove" for many years, sharing graduate students in a collaborative program.

"He was courtly, polite and extremely hard-working. After all, he is Welsh," said Dr. Kagan. "He was the first man here in the morning and the last to leave at night. He was low-key, yet determined and never flamboyant."

Dr. Kagan applauded his colleague's open-door policy when it came to students and fellow faculty.

"When you came in his office, the first thing he always did was to give you a glass of cachaca, which is a sugar cane spirit much like rum," he said. "And he was always willing to chat."

Former students praised his "even-handedness in the classroom and availability to answer questions or offer support," said a son, Karsten A.A. Russell-Wood of Mount Washington.

At holiday time, Dr. Russell-Wood and his wife of 37 years, the former Hannelore Schmidt, hosted parties for students who didn't go home for the holidays.

"But he went beyond the books, often holding 'refugee parties' at his home, inviting those students who stayed in town rather than go home for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays to dine and mingle with his own family," his son said.

"His charisma lent itself to offering both grace and charm to any conversation in which he was a part," he said.

Dr. Russell-Wood had been chairman of the Maryland Committee for the Humanities and in 1981 served as a member of the Maryland Heritage Committee to organize and coordinate Baltimore County's celebration of the state's 350th anniversary.

Dr. Russell-Wood enjoyed traveling, cycling, sailing, hiking and bird watching. He was an avid squash player.

He was a communicant of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 E. University Parkway, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Russell-Wood is survived by another son, Christopher J.O. Russell-Wood of Annapolis; and four grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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