Robert Middlekauff, professor emeritus of American history, dies at age 91

Photo of Robert Middlekauff
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Robert Middlekauff, an American history scholar who spent about 38 years at UC Berkeley, died at age 91. Middlekauff was well-respected, and he authored multiple publications, including a book called “The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728.”

Robert Middlekauff, well-respected scholar and UC Berkeley professor emeritus of American history, died March 10 at the age of 91.

Having spent about 38 years at UC Berkeley between 1962 to 2000, Middlekauff served as the dean of the department of history three times, according to his memoriam. Additionally, Middlekauff served as the dean of the Division of Social Sciences and provost and dean of the College of Letters and Science.

Publishing many notable and award-winning texts, Middlekauff was recognized for his scholarship and academic achievements over the course of his distinguished career, according to Richard Johnson, professor emeritus of the University of Washington and former UC Berkeley Ph.D. student of Middlekauff.

“He had an insatiable curiosity and showed interest in everything and everyone around him,” said Holly Middlekauff, Robert Middlekauff’s daughter, in an email. “He was infinitely kind, generous and empathetic. He was humble. My Dad was witty and had a wonderful sense of humor – and was always the first to laugh at himself. He was wise, and when he spoke, people listened.”

Johnson first met Middlekauff while taking one of his seminars on the Great Awakening as a campus graduate student in the ’60s. Johnson noted that Middlekauff’s seminars were known to spark debate and hilarity, which often resulted in receiving noise complaints from neighboring offices.

After pursuing a dissertation supervised by Middlekauff, Johnson said he continued to stay in touch with him. According to Johnson, Middlekauff was always intelligent, witty and adored by many.

“My father was a great teacher who found great joy in teaching,” Holly Middlekauff said in the email. “He taught freshman seminars, even while serving as Chairman of the History Department, or Provost and Dean of the College of Letters and Science. He mentored undergraduate and graduate students throughout his long career – and found great inspiration in doing so.”

In addition to his accomplishments as a teacher and administrator, Middlekauff authored a large number of publications, most notably a book called “The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596–1728,” which won the Bancroft Prize for Best Book on American History in 1972 and another publication titled “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789,” which received the Berkeley Citation for “Distinguished Achievement and Notable Service to the University,” and the Academic Senate’s Distinguished Teaching Award, according to Holly Middlekauff.

Middlekauff also served as the director of the the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in Southern California, according to Johnson.

Reflecting on Middlekauff, his granddaughter Haley Katz said he was fun-loving, funny and supportive. Katz recalled frequenting the gardens with her grandfather and other family members.

According to Katz, Middlekauff’s “nose was always in a book” and often gave her book recommendations.

“He was always the fun one,” Katz said. “He would always tell the best stories. I think that was the historian in him coming out.”

Contact Katia Pokotylo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katiapokotylo_.