Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.4 (2004) 819-826
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Reginald E. Zelnik (1936-2004)
Mark D. Steinberg
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL 61820 USA
On Monday, 17 May 2004, Professor Reginald E. Zelnik was hit by a delivery truck while walking on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. He died at the scene. Since that day, his many colleagues, students, and friends have been mourning this terrible loss but also celebrating the life and work of an exceptionally influential scholar and wonderful human being. One such memorial took place in mid-June in St. Petersburg, a city Reggie Zelnik studied and loved, at a conference at which he was to have taken part. Colleagues from Russia, the United States, Canada, and Europe, including several of his former students at Berkeley, remembered his brilliant contributions to Russian social history as an author and teacher, his exceptional training and mentoring of graduate students, his generosity and gifted insight as a critical reader for so many other scholars, his service to the profession, and his deep humanity as a historian and a person.
The facts of his career, which was far from winding down when he tragically died, are worth recounting. Born in New York City on 8 May 1936, he attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, graduating in 1956. After a year as a Fulbright fellow at the University of Vienna and two years of military service in the navy (where he first studied Russian), he entered graduate school at Stanford University, working with Wayne Vucinich and Anatole Mazour, among others. He spent the academic year 1961-62 in Leningrad researching his dissertation on St. Petersburg workers, which became his influential 1971 book Labor and Society in Tsarist Russia: The Factory Workers of St. Petersburg, 1855-1870.1 While finishing his dissertation, he taught for a year at Indiana University and then, starting in 1964, at UC-Berkeley. He received his Ph.D. in 1966, and Berkeley became his permanent home. In many quite noticeable ways, Zelnik became much more a Berkeleyite than a displaced New Yorker. And he was devoted to making the university a better institution and a more humane and effective intellectual community. He [End Page 819] served as chair of the Center for Slavic and East European Studies (1977-80), chair of the History Department (1994-97), and vice-chair for graduate studies (1986-87 and again in 2003-4). Most important, his efforts and his own stature in the field helped make Berkeley one of the leading programs for the study of Russia. He also helped make history himself. In 1964, while an acting assistant professor at Berkeley, he took an active part in the famous Free Speech Movement, joining a faculty committee in support of students' free speech rights. In the years following, he remained active in Berkeley's lively politics, especially in opposition to the Vietnam War. In 2002, Zelnik published a co-edited volume The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s.2
Zelnik was a major presence in the profession as a whole. He served on the editorial boards of TheAmerican Historical Review, Journal of Modern History, Slavic Review, Journal of Social History, and Kritika. For many years he was a member of the Joint Committee of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies and served on committees of the American Historical Association (AHA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS, including as the AHA representative on the AAASS board of directors). He was a member of the board of directors of the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research and played a leading role in the National Seminars in the History of Twentieth-Century Russia and in the Allan K. Wildman Group for the Study of Workers and Society. He played a major role in establishing and continuing what has now become a tradition of international "colloquia" on Russian history held every three years in...