James Matthew Kittelson (1941-2003)
Joseph H. Lynch, January 2006
James Matthew Kittelson, professor emeritus of history at Ohio State University, died on November 10, 2003, at the age of 62.
Kittelson graduated from Saint Olaf College in 1963. With the support of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1963) and a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship (1966–67), he earned the PhD (1969) in Reformation history from Stanford University under the direction of Lewis Spitz. After four years on the history faculty at the University of Iowa, he joined the history department at Ohio State University, where he taught for 26 years. He became a professor of history in 1986. He carried on vigorously the distinguished tradition of teaching and research on the Reformation that had been established by his predecessor, Harold Grimm. He was a demanding, but supportive director of graduate students. While he taught at Ohio State, he directed six students to the PhD.
Kittelson appreciated the contributions of Ohio State University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, which he served with his advice, support, and many scholarly connections in the fields of Reformation, Renaissance, and early modern history. In 1983–84, he served as acting director of the center.
Kittelson was a devoted scholar who concentrated on Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, especially as it unfolded in the city of Strasbourg, whose archives he knew extraordinarily well. Kittelson published three books, including Wolfgang Capito from Humanist to Reformer (1975), and most recently Toward an Established Church: Strasbourg from 1500 to the Dawn of the Seventeenth Century (2000). The book that reached the widest audience was Luther the Reformer (1986), which drew on his lifelong interest in Luther and is both scholarly and readable. It has been translated into Chinese, Estonian, Finnish, Korean, and Portuguese. In addition, he published about 30 articles and essays. His talent and intellectual achievements were recognized by prestigious awards, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Society.
For three decades, he was a leader in the field of Reformation studies, to which he gave generously of his time and talent, serving on the editorial boards of Studies in the Reformation and the Lutheran Quarterly. He also was a member of the board of directors of the Center for Reformation Research (Saint Louis) and of the executive committees of the Newberry Library's Renaissance Center and the Society for Reformation Research.
Kittelson was a man of religious faith as well as a meticulous, fair-minded scholar. And as anyone who knew him well can testify, he was not afraid to express his views, often with a little cigar between his fingers. In his life and his scholarship, there was a continuing and enriching interaction between his proud affiliation with the Lutheran Church and his deep knowledge of its origins and development. He was for a term the honorary president of the Fellowship of Confessing Lutheran Churches. In 1997, he received a richly deserved offer from Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, that he could not refuse. He was invited to be professor of church history as well as director of the Thrivent Reformation Research Program, which specializes in gathering and making available to scholars 16th-century printed materials on Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. He welcomed the opportunity to spend the remainder of his career in such a setting, working with future pastors and leaders in the Lutheran Church. He retired from Ohio State University and took up the new positions that he held until his death.
Jim Kittelson is survived by his wife of 40 years, Margaret, who was his friend, adviser, and occasional critic, as well as two daughters, and their families.
In Jim's memory, Luther Seminary has established the James Kittelson Memorial Scholarship Fund, to which contributions can be made in care of Luther Seminary, 2401 Como Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.
—Joseph H. Lynch, Ohio State University