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In Memoriam: William Rorabaugh

Professor Emeritus William Rorabaugh passed away the morning of March 19 at Northwest Hospital from complications arising from the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Born in 1945, William, known to his colleagues as Bill, was a popular teacher and prolific scholar whose legacy in the department will be felt for many years to come.

Bill began his career as a historian of the Jacksonian period of U.S. history and published his first book, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (Oxford, 1979), three years after completing his PhD at University of California, Berkeley. After joining the University of Washington Department of History, Bill gradually transitioned to specialize in U.S. political history of the 1960s, a field in which he continued to publish until his retirement in 2019. 

His friend and colleague Michael Allen, professor of history at University of Washington, Tacoma, described Bill as “tireless in his work as a historian—I have no idea how many monographs he produced, but he was prolific. And he changed fields during his career! He started out as a Jacksonian social historian (alcohol, apprentices, dueling, etc.) and ended up in 1960s political history! ... It is not unheard of, but nevertheless unusual, for a scholar to completely retool and learn a new scholarly field, 150 years removed from his original training.”

An active member of the department for decades, Bill was often found in the hallways of Smith Hall, dressed in a cardigan sweater and slacks (“his trademark professorial outfit,” shared Allen) and always had a story to share. James Gregory, who had known Rorabaugh since their shared time in Berkeley, commented during a faculty memorial that “Bill was so entertaining. The stories he’d tell! That ten-gigabyte mind—he just remembered everything.” Mary O’Neil shared memories of Bill visiting her office to discuss two of his other interests: travel and museums. “Bill’s secret life was as a historian of European art,” she divulged, referring to Gregory’s comments, “Just another dimension of that ‘ten-gigabyte mind.’” “There was always teaching going on when you spoke to him,” Allen reflected.

Note: Bill Rorabaugh Was a longtime supporter of HNN and an original member of its Board of Directors. HNN wishes his family well and salutes his contributions to the field as a scholar and colleague.

Read entire article at University of Washington History Department