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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.2 (2002) 369-371

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In memoriam

Thomas S. Noonan, 1938-2001

Roman K. Kovalev

Early Russian history has lost one of its most dedicated, creative, and prolific scholars with the passing of Thomas S. Noonan (20 January 1938 - 15 June 2001). Most who had known Tom in his many capacities would, no doubt, agree that not only was he a great scholar, but also a splendid teacher and mentor, a genuine and gentle friend to many, and a kind man truly dedicated to his wife, Prof. Norma C. Noonan, and his son, Thomas R. Noonan.

During the course of late 2000 and the first half of 2001, Tom bravely, painfully, and stubbornly battled with cancer, which, in the end, had weakened him to a point beyond any human resistance. Until the very end, with his family and friends at his side, he continued to look forward as he diligently penciled in his thoughts on a yellow notepad while being hooked up to myriad life-support systems - continuing his seemingly endless search for answers to historical questions. Amazingly, during his last month of life, spent at the hospital, he contributed greatly to the completion of our last joint article ("Bol´shoi klad dirkhemov nachala epokhi vikingov naidennyi v 2000 g. v g. Kozel´ske, Kaluzhskoi obl."). Tom's resistance to his terminal malady and his will and spirit to live on and discover new horizons is admirable, and finds few parallels.

The prolific, creative, and multi-faceted nature of Tom and his research is well known throughout the world to early Slavicists and historical numismatists. His works on dirhams, or silver Islamic coins, have now become indispensable not only for the better understanding of Viking-age Islamic-Rus´-Baltic trade relations, but also more generally to the study of the economic history of medieval western Eurasia (from Spain to Central Asia).

While a great many scholars know Tom as a historical numismatist, others are more familiar with his highly respected works on the nomads of the southern Russian steppe zone such as the Khazars, Pechenegs, and Polovtsy, or the Volga Bulghars of the middle Volga region. Others know him as one of the foremost historians of the Vikings in the East. His work on the history of Byzantine-Rus´ relations, whether pertaining to technological transfers or trade relations, is also widely recognized. Yet others, particularly the readers of Kritika, may know Tom primarily as an active and innovative researcher in the field of pre-Mongol Rus´, one of the cornerstones of his interests. In addition to some of the topics already [End Page 369] noted above, Tom's studies treated the question of urbanization in Viking-age Rus´; cultural relations between Novgorod and Latin Europe; the economy of Kievan Rus´ based on the birch-bark texts; the question of the way debts were documented and collected in Novgorod; the nature of Russian-Estonian relations in the Viking Age; Suzdalia's Eastern trade in the late Kievan era as well as Russia's Eastern trade between 1150-1350; the monetary history of Kievan Rus´; Kiev's industry as well as its domestic and international trade; the diffusion of the glass industry in Rus´; the counting and packaging of pelts in medieval Rus´, and many other topics. In short, his interests and contributions were broad.

In writing his works on all of the above topics, Tom always strove to explore previously unstudied questions. In fact, he often specifically chose his projects because they had been neglected, and therefore required new methodological approaches and the use of non-traditional sources. By utilizing a wide range of evidence, including numismatics, archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, epigraphy, and even the hard sciences (such as spectral analysis of glass) as well as the standard written texts, Tom was able to study many fundamental historical issues which could not have been addressed, let alone studied in any detail, using only the written sources. His creativity was one of many scholarly gifts that fueled his productivity and historical insight. On many occasions...


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