SSHA In Memoriam
Professor Xiaohong Xu, sociologist of history, politics, culture, political economy, and China, passed away on December 12, 2023 at Angela Hospice near his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 45 years old.
Professor Xu’s brilliance, originality, and adventurous intellectual spirit shined through his work. With erudition and curiosity that were only matched by his humility and kindness, Xu dedicated his life to developing an innovative cultural framework that examined how revolutionary vanguards arise and create historical change. His award-winning, pathbreaking work about the twentieth-century Chinese Revolution has been published on some of his discipline’s most central stages. Xu’s still unpublished work goes as far as arguing that the Chinese Cultural Revolution created the conditions for the country’s subsequent turns to neoliberalism and authoritarianism. His writing was bold and courageous, and so was his approach to public intellectual life. He appeared in numerous panels on contemporary China, wrote about current issues in public forums, and marched with pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong during the turbulent spring and summer of 2019. A community builder, Xu co-founded THiS (Theory, History, and Society)—a platform promoting scholarly conversations across the Pacific. His gentle spirit touched every person who met him. His ambitious research program will have a lasting impact on future scholars of culture, revolution, comparative-historical sociology, and social theory.
Professor Xu was born in a rural village near the city of Quzhou in the Zhejiang Province of Southeastern China. His father was a farmer, and his mother was a village tailor. He left the village at the age of twelve for a middle school in the county town, sleeping on a bunkbed in a room shared with 20 other boys. He visited home once every week or two, bringing back to school only rice, steamed buns, and pickles as food. He recalled absolutely no self-pity, but felt carefree joy in exploring the world around him and expanding his knowledge.
Attending the best high school in Quzhou was Xiaohong’s first city experience. At the age of eighteen, he went to the capital city to study chemistry at Peking University—China’s flagship higher-education institution. There, he was drawn toward the social sciences. Xu immersed himself in the thriving avant-garde cultural scene of Beijing in that period, working as an assistant editor at the journal China Scholarship, and participating in critical theory circles on and off campus. He came to the U.S. in 2003 to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Notre Dame, then transferred to Yale University where he earned his Ph.D. in sociology in 2014. Upon graduation, Xu moved back to Asia as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore and subsequently to Lingnan University in Hong Kong. He returned to the U.S. to join the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2019, as an assistant professor in a joint position in the Department of Sociology and the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, where he served as Associate Director for the last three months of his life.
Xiaohong will be remembered for his infinite generosity and dedication to critical inquiry and to nurturing the next generation of scholars. His career and his life were kindled by a boundless passion for knowledge and ideas, and his bonhomie and far-reaching impact are evident in the hundreds of letters and messages sent to him from across the sociological discipline and beyond during his last weeks of life.
Professor Xiaohong Xu is survived by his wife Lang Chen, nine-year-old daughter Aubree Xu, mother Yanxiang Fu, father Huomu Xu, and two brothers Liming Xu and Xiaobin Xu. He will be forever missed by them and by numerous loving friends, colleagues, and students.
Professor Xiaohong Xu’s obituary, along with information about the Xiaohong Xu Memorial Support Endowment Fund, can be found here: Remembering Professor Xiaohong Xu.
Winifred Barr Rothenberg
By Anne McCants
Our colleague, Winnifred Barr Rothenberg, passed away on October 1, 2023. We would be sorely remiss if we failed to take proper notice of a life that was lived so extraordinarily well. So on this somber occasion I would like to reflect on my own quarter-century friendship with Winnie, a friendship born in economic history.
This tale begins on a Friday afternoon in early September 1991, completely unbeknownst to Winnie herself. I was newly arrived at MIT as an Assistant Professor at a time when there were not yet such things as the EHA graduate student initiatives that have done so much to facilitate the acquisition of professional contacts and norms of conduct even before graduation. So my first foray to the Harvard Economic History Workshop felt intimidating in all the ways one would expect of any new situation where the rules of the game are only revealed through experience and the reassuring passage of time. Should one sit at the table, or in the extra row of chairs? Who may interrupt the speaker and how soon into the talk? Did it matter if one were an economist or an historian, or from Harvard or from elsewhere? Indeed, who were all these people and where did they fall in all of the hierarchies I imagined in my mind, hierarchies of age, gender, seniority, institution or field? I was not even certain what one should wear to a Friday afternoon seminar.
I was hopelessly early that day and had to sweat out the long wait for the seminar to begin. Then just on the edge of being late (as so many of us are who come in from other campuses), in walks a woman with elegant white hair and an old-fashioned demeanor (being preternaturally old-fashioned myself I feel I can get away with this characterization). She seated herself effortlessly at the table, near the front, with all the confidence I so desperately wanted to convey myself. And no sooner had the speaker set himself into motion than she had her hand up, barely, and her question out on the table. It was a thoughtful question that moved the conversation forward, but also, and I remember this most clearly, a question that moved the conversation back into a literature, all the while revealing her expert command of a whole array of earlier conversations that illuminated the problem at hand.
I made two important decisions that day. First, I realized that I needed a mentor, or at the very least a role model, someone I could imitate as I learned how to be not just an economic historian, but a practitioner of the profession I had entered into with so little experience of anything but the research enterprise itself. Second, I decided that this woman, notwithstanding her still unknown identity, would be an excellent candidate. It did not yet occur to me that we might become such good friends, for imitation is easily practiced as a solo art and that was enough for getting started. So on day one of my unilateral apprenticeship I (re)learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover; it is the content that matters. Content is shaped in this case by some first-rate thinking backed up by lots of homework.
It took me another week or two to actually figure out Winnie’s name, and then to track down her publications, and to read as much of them as I could. It took somewhat longer to work up an excuse to start our first conversation, but all these years later I continue to be inspired by that conversation. I admired her infectious enthusiasm for her dual callings as teacher and scholar; her deep commitment to nurture the work of others, both students and colleagues; the meticulous care with which she prepared for every class and every presentation, even discussant comments for papers that arrived to her late; her ability to call up exactly the right book or article to speak to any issue at hand; the grace with which she offered all critiques; and the fact that she was still at it, long after many of her peers had retired to their armchairs.
All this would be more than enough to have rewarded my admittedly hasty and uninformed choice of role model. But Winnie had other lessons to teach me, ones that I have come to realize she considered of even greater importance. Her life had seasons to it, more pronounced than anything a professional woman of my generation can really imagine. Her scholarly career was an unconventional one, but also an unusually tenacious one. Nearly four decades elapsed between the granting of her undergraduate degree in economics from Barnard College and her PhD in history from Brandeis University. In between she raised three children, found her way into teaching (history at Newton South High School), and always kept reading (or so I infer from the scope of the library in her mind). By the 1970s scholarly pursuits were increasingly open to women, yielding an opportunity that might have been deemed too late by a less confident soul. Then when doctoral programs in economics proved closed to her after all on account of her age she turned to history – an irony that I am sure would not have been lost on the medieval ecclesiastical historian at Barnard whom she had once tried to persuade (no surprise unsuccessfully) to let her fulfill her undergraduate history requirement with an economics course.
It was with the completion of the doctorate that most of the members of this association entered into her story. For we mostly know Winnie the economic historian. It has been my true fortune that I came to know Winnie the mother, wife, teacher, and friend as well. Now whenever I’m tempted to think it is too late for me to try one thing or another I have Winnie in my mind’s eye. She reminds me that it isn’t too late. When I’m tempted to worry about what other people will think of me if my path is not the standard one, there is Winnie to remind me that respect does not follow from conformity but from excellence. When I feel frantic to do everything important in my life at once, I have Winnie again to remind me that there can be a season for this, another season for that, and each need not foreclose the possibility of the other. These are the milestone lessons that I appreciate the most. from a colleague, mentor, and friend. She will be missed, but her wisdom and kindness lives on in all of us who were fortunate to know her.
June 1, 1960 - May 27th, 2023
Professor Benita Roth, a feminist intersectional scholar, union leader, and valued colleague, teacher and advisor, died on May 27th, 2023. She was 62.
Benita Roth was Professor of Sociology and History, and Director of the transdisciplinary program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Binghamton University. From 2010-2015, she also served as the associate editor for the Journal of Women’s History.
Building on feminist intersectional scholarship, Benita Roth’s research foregrounds the work of feminists and those who fought the ravages of AIDS and opioids, even as it unflinchingly captures the inequalities that fissured these movements. In recognition of the important contributions it made, her first book, Separate Roads to Feminism: Black Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave (Cambridge U. Press, 2004), earned the distinguished book award in sex and gender from the American Sociological Association. According to the awards committee, the book filled “a critical gap by…taking on the mainstream account that claims women of color came late to feminism.” Instead, as Roth’s work shows, “Black and Chicana feminism emerged at the same time as women’s liberation” and that “by incorporating race and class, not just gender, in their analyses, these women-of-color groups anticipated the “intersectional” theorizing that has so influenced our field over the past 20 years.”
The insights offered by Benita Roth’s research are not limited only to the academic. They are also strategic, as her comments on how to avoid “‘Healing’ the US back to an Anti-Feminist Future” (January 2021) reveal. Her second book, The Life and Death of ACT UP/LA (Cambridge U. Press, 2017), tells a “largely lost” success story of “the accomplishments of direct-action anti-AIDS protest.” In keeping with her book’s assessment that gender inequalities undermined the group’s momentum, she advises activists to “always be actively conscious of how they construct solidarity, who is included, whose voices are excluded, who gets listened to.” She underscored such strategic lessons when she interviewed former ACT UP/NY activist, Ron Goldberg. Her most recent research project –focused on the fight against the opioid epidemic in Central New York by people involved with Truth Pharm —similarly derived strategic implications for activists facing different local political and institutional contexts.
Benita Roth’s commitment to equity extended beyond her scholarship to praxis. As described by her colleagues at the UUP (United University Professions), she vigorously represented the interests of all professionals, including that of faculty, at Binghamton University through more than fifteen years (2007-2023) of dedicated service: as the elected Chapter President between 2013-2017, and as Vice President for Academics for the Binghamton Chapter of the union since. Most recently, Benita was also a member of the state-wide contract negotiations team and a member of the state UUP Executive Board. As in the case of her early experience of research and activism with ACT UP/LA in the 1990s, her recent work with Truth Pharm also drew her into an immediate fight for justice. In recent years, Benita became a vocal advocate for harm reduction, conducting Narcan trainings in the community.
In losing Benita, we also lose a dynamic instructor, loyal colleague and friend. A champion of sociology as a seed for social change and a committed advisor to the independent research of both undergraduates and graduate students, Professor Roth received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2007. She brought a steady hand and witty repartee to departmental deliberations in Sociology and WGSS, and an infectious confidence in all our endeavors. To many of us at the University and to many more beyond, she was also a trusted friend: one who might admonish self-doubt just as easily as regale with anecdotes of the absurd and the obscene from Hollywood to politics.
Stanley L. Engerman
March 14, 1936 - May 11, 2023
Stanley L. Engerman, devoted husband, father, grandfather, and scholar, died peacefully in his sleep on May 11, 2023, at the age of 87. He had been battling Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) for much of 2023. Together with his late wife Judith Rader Engerman (1940-2019), he raised three sons and kept a lively household with a stream of friends and colleagues visiting from near and far.
They spent much of their lives in Rochester, New York, moving there in 1963 when he was hired as Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. He gravitated to the field of economic history, which he had first been exposed to while completing his doctorate at The Johns Hopkins University. His most widely read work was Time on the Cross (1974), an economic analysis of American slavery, which he wrote together with Robert Fogel; that book won the Bancroft Prize in American History and is widely recognized for its significant contributions to the understanding of the pre-Civil War South. In the 1990s, he and collaborator Ken Sokoloff published a series of influential articles that were collected in a volume, Economic Development in the Americas (2012). Among his many professional honors were elections to the presidencies of the Economic History Association and the Social Science History Association, and appointment as the Pitt Professor in American History at the University of Cambridge. He retired as the John H. Munro Professor of Economics and History at the University of Rochester in 2017.
Shortly after his retirement, Stan and Judy moved to the Boston area to be closer to their three sons and six grandchildren. He is predeceased by Judy, who died in 2019; he is survived by his sister Natalie Mayrsohn and by sons David (and wife Stephanie Wratten, children Nina and Simon), Mark (and wife Jill Engerman, children Kaylin and Brandon), and Jeff (and children Maxwell and El, and partner Julia and her two daughters).
A memorial service will be held on Sunday May 21st at 11 am at Brighton Memorial Chapel, 3325 Winton Road South, Rochester New York. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations in his memory to the Stanley L. Engerman Endowed Fund for Economics at the University of Rochester, or to the American Cancer Society.
A write up about Stanley Engerman from the University of Rochester can be found here: https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/stanley-engerman-economics-history-remembered-560942/.
Augustus Leon (Lee) Beier IV
October 1, 1941 - February 25, 2023
He had a big personality to match his tall frame. People remember his enthusiasm for conversation, rock ‘n roll, soccer, basketball (Go, Bulls!), and anything with a motor. Lee Beier, who died on February 25, 2023, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia, lived his 81 years to the fullest.
Born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, on October 2, 1941, Lee grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, graduating from Monona Grove High School in 1959. His most important and formative experience as a youth was marching and playing the bass bugle with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps. He kept in touch with fellow members of the Corps for the rest of his life, attending reunions, maintaining friendships, and taking his sons to performances and competitions.
Lee attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison), where he majored in history and graduated in 1963. He then spent a Fulbright year in Nancy, France, where he firmed up his intention to become a professional historian. He completed his Ph.D. in history at Princeton University, beginning his life-long dedication to doing and teaching social history. He worked as a history professor, first at Lancaster University (UK), later at Illinois State University (Normal). He published many books, scholarly articles, and reviews, mainly focusing on 16th- and 17th-century British history.
Although Lee spent much of his life far from the woods and waters of northwestern Wisconsin, the small lakes of the region were always his happy place. He grew up enjoying summers at Pine Lake, near New Auburn, and, as an adult, owned cabins on, first, Fireside Lake, then Round Lake, where he lived full-time after his retirement in 2009. An avid swimmer, he was always first in the chilly spring waters after the ice went out, and took his last dive off the dock in September.
Lee Beier is survived by his children, Robert Joseph McCray Beier (Jen), Jesse Callaghan McCray Beier (Lisa), Jacob Leon McCray Beier, and Zachary James McCray Beier (Rachel). He is also survived by his ex-wife, Lucinda McCray, five grandchildren, and his sisters, Victoria, Ann, and Katherine. A celebration of his life is planned for early summer.
2024 Annual Conference Submissions Now Open
SSHA is now accepting paper and session submissions for the 2024 Annual Conference. Please visit our submission portal ssha2024.ssha.org to submit a paper or session proposal by February 23, 2024.
SSHA Call for Papers
50th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association
Toronto, ON, Canada, October 31 - November 3, 2024.