Herbert J. Ellison (1929-2012)
Dr. Herbert J. Ellison devoted thirty years of distinguished service to the University of Washington, and for nearly a half-century was one of the leading figures in the field of Soviet and post-Soviet studies before his retirement in June 2002. Without his commitment, the Ellison Center and the Jackson School as a whole would not be the same. Their success can be traced in large measure to Ellison’s vision, leadership and tireless enthusiasm for teaching and research in Eurasian and international affairs.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Ellison received his BA and MA degrees in history from the University of Washington. He wrote his doctoral dissertation while on a Fulbright fellowship at the University of London, under the supervision of the eminent historian Hugh Seton-Watson. He held faculty positions at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Kansas before returning to the UW in 1968. Following, he held a variety of important administrative positions, serving as Director of the Jackson School of International Studies, Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Vice President of the then-called American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS), Chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Research and Exchanges (IREX) Board of Washington, D.C. and Director of Eurasian Research for the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) in Seattle. He was also a key player in the creation of the Russian language program in the Soviet Union organized by the Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE)—the program through which former Ellison Center Director Steve Hanson (along with a group of students that also included REECAS faculty member Glennys Young) first visited the USSR as a graduate student in 1986. Dr. Ellison has played a central role in just about every major organization in Soviet and Russian studies.
He did so, moreover, while continuing to produce a stream of enlightening publications on diverse aspects of Soviet history and post-Soviet international relations, including important works on such topics as Soviet foreign policy toward Western Europe, Sino-Soviet relations, the nature of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the role of post-Soviet Russia in the changing international arena of Northeast Asia. He also served as Executive Producer and Chief Consultant for the highly-regarded PBS/BBC television series Messengers from Moscow on the history of the Cold War and the PBS documentary The Real Boris Yeltsin, which was nominated for an Emmy award.
Along with Ellison’s remarkable record of scholarship, he was one of the most beloved teachers at the University of Washington. His undergraduate courses on the history of communism and on Soviet and Russian history were perennial favorites, and many of his graduate students went on to distinguished academic careers of their own.