In Memoriam: Hans Rogger
Steven J. Zipperstein, March 2002
From the In Memoriam column in the March 2002 Perspectives
Hans Rogger, the distinguished historian of imperial Russia and Professor of History at UCLA, died in Los Angeles on January 11 at the age of 78. Rogger is widely considered the leading authority on tsarist Russian–Jewish policy. He is the author of highly influential articles and books on imperial Russian conservatism, and Russian perceptions of America. He wrote what is arguably the finest synthetic portrait in any language of late imperial Russia — the justly celebrated Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881–1917.
Beginning his studies with the cultural history of 18th century Russia, he would eventually take on the full expanse of modern Russian history, and his work — deeply erudite, densely documented and methodologically eclectic — examined nearly all aspects of its social, political, cultural and intellectual life. Even in his last years, he lectured large, enthusiastic undergraduate classes at UCLA on imperial foreign policy and hoped to publish a book-length study, as he put it, of imperial "policy-making institutions, men, motives, constraints, and pressures." He was a teacher of rare, meticulous devotion, a scholar of remarkable discipline and intellectual rectitude, and a graduate mentor so splendid, so generous, and so exacting that his many PhD students revere him with singular regard and gratitude.
Born in 1923 in Herford, Westphalia, he was educated in Germany and Switzerland, before he came with his family to the United States in 1939, when they fled the Nazis. After serving in the American navy, he graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, and went in 1948 to the Soviet Area Studies program at Harvard, where he received his MA and completed his PhD in 1956 under the supervision of Michael Karpovich. He taught at Sarah Lawrence 1953–61, and came to UCLA in 1961. Rogger's first book, based on his dissertation, National Consciousness in Eighteenth–Century Russia, was published in 1960. A pathbreaking study that he co-edited with his UCLA colleague, Eugen Weber, The European Right: A Historical Profile, appeared in 1965. Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia, which drew upon articles Rogger had published in journals over the span of some fifteen years, was published in 1986. Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881–1917, appeared in 1983. He was chair of the UCLA History Department (1978–83), director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at UCLA (1962–66), and he held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and elsewhere. He was, in 1982–85, director-at-large of the American Association for Slavic Studies, he was a member (1984–88) of the academic council of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, and he served on the editorial boards of Slavic Review and the American Historical Review.
Rogger's work was characterized by close, exacting readings of text — governmental, literary, and otherwise — and an insistence on understanding even the shrillest of voices with empathy, and in historical context. Rogger's temperament was a liberal one, and he spent much of his academic career explicating illiberality, explaining its preoccupations, its biases, and its hatreds but in ways that lent them an internal coherence often lost on other, less meticulous and less dispassionate scholars. His work on the chasm — misconstrued in late imperial Russia and blurred later in the wake of the Russian revolution — separating Russian conservatism and right-wing thought and politics remains definitive. Still more influential was Rogger's research into Russian governmental policy toward Jews. Here he undermined widely held beliefs in the culpability of the tsarist regime for the pogroms of 1881–82, and the assumption that it held and consistently promoted a coherent policy vis a vis its Jews. Instead, Rogger argued that its stance was characterized by uncertainty, not clarity, by distrust for Jews, but no clearly wrought policy of persecution, and, above all, by fear of change that rendered all radical solutions, including reactionary ones, inconceivable.
Rogger's scholarship was characterized by its unusual subtlety, and by a not inconsiderable daring that ran deep. He was self–effacing and principled, perhaps, at times, to a fault. Rogger destroyed a full-length monograph he had quite nearly completed on the Beilis Affair, reducing its essential findings to a first rate article on the subject (reprinted in his Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia) after the publication in 1966 of Maurice Samuel's popular book The Blood Accusation. He understood with rare clarity that the excavation of historical truth was excruciatingly difficult, that its discovery demanded sustained historical imagination, even more than mere erudition and exacting labor. He was a deeply cultivated person, widely read in European literature, political theory, and many different ideas of history. He was sophisticated and worldly, but also unpretentious, generous to colleagues and students alike. A close, meticulous, original reader of the Russian classics, he built deft, suggestive analyses into his monographs of Russian writers ranging from D.I. Fonvizin to Dostoevsky. The writer closest to his own temperament was, perhaps, Chekhov. In a famous letter to Suvorin, his editor, Chekhov states, much as Rogger might have, "We shall not play the charlatan, and we will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything." He worked closely with his wife Claire, whom he called his "critic and comrade of many years" in Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881–1917. His son, Alexander, whom he much admired for skills so different from his own, is a builder in Colorado. May the memory of Hans Rogger be a blessing.
—Steven J. Zipperstein,