Nicholas Papayanis (1940-2004)
Stuart Schaar, April 2005
Nick Papayanis (1940–2004), professor emeritus of history at Brooklyn College, CUNY, passed away on November 6, 2004, after a courageous fight with pancreatic cancer. He left behind a legacy as a devoted teacher and a fine scholar of French social and urban history. By the end of his life, Papayanis was recognized in the United States and in France as one of the leading urban historians of modern France.
Just a week before he died he saw a copy of his fourth and last book, Planning Paris before Haussmann, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. This book examines urban planning in the French capital before it was transformed from a medieval town into a modern city. Baron George Haussmann, the prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III from 1858–70, created grand boulevards and tied the suburbs to the industrializing city. But, as Papayanis discovered and explains in this book, before the prefect reconstructed Paris, the capital's intellectuals debated issues of city planning and urban reform within a framework of a new modernism, which laid the foundations for Haussmann's work.
Papayanis described that modernism in two landmark books about the emergence of the urban transportation system in Paris and the workers who ran the above-ground networks in the context of the city's urban and social development from the 17th century: The Coachmen of Nineteenth Century Paris: Service Workers and Class Consciousness (Baton Rouge/London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993) and Horse Drawn Cabs and Omnibuses in Paris: The Idea of Circulation and the Business of Public Transit (Baton Rouge/London: Louisiana State University Press, 1996). In these books he showed the relationship between the state and capitalism in defining a new industry.
Nick Papayanis's life and career took him from New York City where he was born and raised to some of the finest schools in the United States and then to Brooklyn College where he began teaching in 1968. He received a BA from New York University, an MA from Harvard University, and a PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he studied with Harvey Goldberg, George Mosse, and Theodore Hamerow, all prominent European historians. In 1985 he published his doctoral thesis, Alphonse Merrheim: The Emergence of Reformism in Revolutionary Syndicalism, 1871–1925 (Dordrecht, The Netherlands/Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers) about an early leader of the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT). At Brooklyn College he taught courses on modern France; socialism, anarchism, and Marxism in Europe; and the modern city in the Western world.
Nick Papayanis received recognition as a leading scholar in his field as well as a large number of prestigious awards. These included a Fulbright Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, and Brooklyn College's Wolfe Fellowship. His wife Marilyn accompanied him to Paris a few months before he died, to participate in a major conference on French urban history where he saw for a final time some of his closest French friends.
A beloved teacher, Nick Papayanis earned the respect and friendship of both graduate and undergraduate students. They and his co-workers in the Department of History, the Graduate Faculty of City University of New York, and all of his colleagues in the academic community will miss him greatly.
— Stuart Schaar
Brooklyn College, CUNY