Remembering Richard Stites
The SFS and Georgetown communities and admirers across academia mourned the March 7 death of Richard Stites.
Stites, the School of Foreign Service Board of Visitors Distinguished Professor in International Studies and one of the world’s foremost authorities on Russian cultural and social history, died in Helsinki, Finland, where he was conducting research. He was 78.
“His works were one of a kind, outstanding in their writing and their scholarship,” Columbia University professor emeritus Richard Wortman told the New York Times for an obituary whose author cited Stites’ interest in researching topics that had been minimally subject to scholarly treatment. Colleagues remembered Stites at a memorial service April 9 hosted by the Department of History, the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES) and the SFS Dean’s Office.
“Richard Stites was a complex and compassionate teacher, researcher, and friend. His scholarship was path-opening from the start, and at his death 32 years later it was continuing to expand in both breadth and ingenuity,” said associate professor of history H.R. Spendelow. “For his students, the historical dramas they created and enacted in class nurtured deep empathy for worlds they could never experience directly. As a friend, he could be serious, sarcastic, even silly – but never somber.”
Born in 1931 in Philadelphia, Stites earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, his master’s from George Washington University and his doctorate from Harvard University. He taught at Lycoming College, Ohio State University and Brown University before coming to Georgetown in 1977. Most recently at Georgetown, he taught Europe in World War II and an SFS proseminar: The Age of Fascism, Communism, and the World Wars.
Stites’ books included The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930 (1978) and Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Social Experiment in the Russian Revolution (1989), among others. At the time of his death, he was completing work on The Four Horsemen: Revolution and the Counter-Revolution in Post-Napoleonic Europe. In 2007, Stites said he hoped the work would “offer some prudent observations about international behavior in an era of turbulence and the clash between popular movements and state intervention.”