Historian Theodore Rabb, Champion of the Humanities, Dies at 81

Written by
Denise Valenti for the Office of Communications
Jan. 25, 2019

Theodore Rabb, professor of history, emeritus, founder of Princeton’s “Humanities Sequence” and an innovative teacher of generations of students, died Jan. 7 at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center. He was 81.

Rabb was a specialist in 16th- and 17th-century Europe with a broad interest in many areas. He was involved in research ranging from climate history to the history of diet to quantitative studies. He also established several initiatives to support the quality of teaching at Princeton, as well as at community colleges in New Jersey.

He transferred to emeritus status in 2006 after 39 years of service.

During the 1990s, Rabb worked with John Fleming, Robert Hollander and others to create Humanities 216-219, a landmark, interdisciplinary, four-course sequence that continues to introduce a select group of first-year students to Western ideas and culture through the works of Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Cicero, St. Augustine and many others.

“Ted Rabb understood with a sweeping breadth the particular genius of the Western cultural traditions from which the modern university and indeed our very nation derives, and was a wellspring of creative ideas concerning their study and contemporary presentation,” said Fleming, the Louis W. Fairchild ’24 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus. 

“The program he designed to encourage Princeton doctoral students to consider careers in the community colleges was innovative and in a certain sense also prophetic,” added Fleming. “Most important, for me personally, was his extraordinary initiative in founding the ‘double’ Humanities Studies introductory sequence, which is now one of the most famous undergraduate courses at Princeton, and certainly one of the most challenging and successful.”

Read more at News at Princeton.

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