SHAFR News: Passing of Bob Beisner

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 7:00pm

SHAFR recently learned that Robert L. Beisner, who served as SHAFR’s President in 2002, has passed away.  Bob served as president after he had retired from American University in a career that was marked by distinguished scholarship and service as Chair of the History Department.

He received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 1965 with his dissertation winning the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society for American Historians. Later published as Twelve against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900, Bob then turned to a broader view for his next work, From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865-1900.  He then took a turn for the Cold War, publishing Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War.  His scholarship received broad acclamation; in addition to SHAFR’s Robert H. Ferrell Book Award, he also won the AHA’s John Dunning Prize, the Douglas Dillon Award from the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Arthur Ross Silver Medal Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Bob also provided valuable service to SHAFR.  In addition to serving as its President, he undertook the herculean task of serving as editor-in-chief of the second edition to SHAFR’s two-volume Guide to the Literature on American Foreign Relations.  He is fondly remembered among his colleagues for his generosity in terms of mentoring upcoming professionals in the field.

He is survived by his children and step-children. A memorial gathering is planned for April 21, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. in the Kay Spiritual Life Center on the American University campus.

Bob will be remembered--along with all other SHAFR members who have passed away this year--during the Presidential luncheon at the conference in Philadelphia.

Bob is remembered by his friends and colleagues in SHAFR very kindly:

“Bob was a real friend.”

“Bob ranked with the best of the best: scholar, teacher, fiend, raconteur, possessor of more institutional and disciplinary memory than any dozen colleagues.  In reflecting on why I feel grateful for becoming a diplomatic historian, I need only think of Bob.  His quiet demeanour masked a keen intellect, willingness to take interpretive risks, and a twinkle in his eye.  Always skeptical of power and its unwise deployment, his critical eye cut across most of the key eras in the history of American foreign policy.  Rest in peace, Bob Beisner.  You will be missed.”

“Bob Beisner’s death is a deeply sad event.  He was a dear friend and a genuine scholar and gentle person.”



It was my great pleasure to have been the editor for Bob's massive, critically acclaimed biography of Dean Acheson. One of my ensuring memories of Bob is the president of Oxford University Press reading an advance copy of Kissinger's New York Times review of the book to Bob and his wife Valerie over the phone. In addition to his own scholarly work, he was always generous in agreeing to review manuscripts for me, well into his retirement, and he took pleasure in helping young authors to shape the best versions of their own work. I do hope Bob is reunited with his beloved Valerie now and that they are enjoying a fine meal at their favorite Greek restaurant or traveling to some exotic vacation spot together.

Susan Ferber, Oxford University Press