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Georg Iggers

Published November 30, 2017

Georg G. Iggers, a SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus and internationally renowned historian and civil rights advocate, died Nov. 26 in Canterbury Woods, Amherst, of complications from a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 90.

A UB faculty member for more than 40 years, Iggers had a profound influence on two of the most important political movements of the 20th century: the American civil rights movement and the 1989 political revolution in East Germany.

Born in Hamburg, anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany led Iggers and his family to flee to the United States in 1938, a few weeks before Kristallnacht, settling in Richmond, Va. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago, where met his future wife, Wilma Abeles, a refugee from Czechoslovakia. They were married in 1948.

In 1950, Iggers and his wife took positions at a historically black college, Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, Ark. He joined the NAACP in 1951 and was one of the first whites inducted into Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at Philander Smith.

A report Iggers compiled for the NAACP detailing the differences between Little Rock’s all-black and all-white high schools formed the basis of the organization’s historic desegregation lawsuit against the Little Rock School Board. Iggers also gained admission for black students to the segregated Little Rock Public Library.

Iggers and his wife continued their civil rights activities after moving to Dillard University in New Orleans, another historically black school, in 1957.

He spent a year in France and Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1960-61, followed by a year in Germany on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. The couple returned to Dillard, then taught for two years at universities in Chicago.

Iggers joined the UB faculty as a professor of European intellectual history in 1965, was named a SUNY Distinguished Professor in 1977 and retired in 1997. He continued teaching a graduate seminar every fall through 2007.

In retirement, he and his wife, a professor emerita of modern languages at Canisius College, divided their time between Amherst and Gottingen, Germany.

A renowned scholar, Iggers’ first landmark work, “The German Conception of History,” published in 1968, incorporated methods from social sciences and post-modern academic analysis in the study of how history is compiled and related.

His other books included “New Directions in European Historiography” in 1975, “Historiography in the Twentieth Century” in 1997 and, with Qingjia Edward Wang and Supriya Mukherjee, “A Global History of Modern Historiography” in 2008. His books have been translated into 14 languages.

In 1980, he founded a worldwide organization, the International Commission on the History of Historiography, and served as its president from 1995 to 2000.

Iggers received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the Fulbright Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to the Guggenheim Foundation.

He arranged graduate student exchanges between Buffalo and the Technical University of Darmstadt, West Germany, and the Academy of Sciences in the former East Berlin. He also established contacts with colleges in China, Japan and South Korea.

In 2007, he received the Order of Merit from German President Horst Kohler for his work in civil rights and his efforts to link scholars from East and West Germany during the Cold War.

He also was awarded the Humboldt Prize, which is given to internationally renowned scientists and scholars.

Iggers and his wife wrote a joint autobiography, “Two Lives in Uncertain Times: Facing the Challenges of the Twentieth Century as Scholars and Citizens,” which was published in German in 2002, in English in 2006 and in Czech, Chinese and Spanish editions.