Janelle Greenberg (1938–2023)
Historian of Early Modern Britain
Janelle Greenberg, professor emerita of British history at the University of Pittsburgh, passed away on June 6, 2023, at her home in Hollywood, Florida. She died peacefully, with her husband of 62 years, Martin Greenberg, and their son Steven by her side. Both survive her, along with daughter Rebecca; son Joshua; and three grandchildren, Arella, Ezra, and Pearl.
Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on April 3, 1938, Janelle attended Stillwater High School and the University of Houston, where she met both Martin and her lifelong mentor, Corinne Comstock Weston. After Janelle completed her BA and MA at Houston, she and Martin moved to the University of Michigan, where she earned her PhD in 1970.
By the time Janelle received her doctorate, she and Martin had relocated to Pittsburgh and had begun raising a family. Balancing the competing demands of career and child-rearing, she accepted a position at the University of Pittsburgh first as a part-time instructor and then, in 1979, as a half-time assistant professor. In 1989, Janelle was promoted to associate professor with tenure, the first instance in the department’s history of a part-time faculty member being promoted to a tenured full-time position. In 2001, Janelle became the department’s second female full professor, after her colleague Evelyn Rawski.
Janelle specialized in legal and constitutional history. Her articles appeared in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, English Historical Review, History of Political Thought, Cardozo Law Review, and other venues. In 1981, she published a monograph, co-authored with Weston, titled Subjects and Sovereigns: The Grand Controversy over Legal Sovereignty in Stuart England (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981). Her magnum opus was The Radical Face of the Ancient Constitution: St. Edward’s “Laws” in Early Modern Political Thought (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001). Based on 30 years of research at the British Library and other repositories, the book uncovered an “invented tradition” of civil and political rights supposedly based in the laws of the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor. The book traced the invention of those laws to the 1200s–1300s, and their subsequent elaboration and invocation in the political pamphlets and debates of the 1500s–1600s. Reviews by distinguished scholars including J. G. A. Pocock and Johann Sommerville recognized the book as a pathbreaking contribution to British political and constitutional history.
Janelle was a gifted stylist and explicator, explaining in clear and engaging prose the legal principles and political issues at play and why they mattered. She brought that same approach to her teaching, turning the most abstruse legal and constitutional debates into dramatic analytical narratives. This won her the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989, sky-high teaching evaluations, and crowds of students who followed her from class to class. Each year at the department’s reception for graduating seniors and their families, Janelle was a constant center of gravity, surrounded by a crush of grateful students and their parents.
Janelle was as popular with faculty colleagues, departmental staff, and university administrators as she was with her students. Though at heart a rather private person, she loved good food, good wine, and good friends. Her sense of humor veered wildly from the whip-smart to the slapstick, placing any gathering at which she was present at serious risk of dissolving into raucous hilarity. Playing first base, she was a linchpin of the departmental softball team, the History Reds, and contributed mightily to our championship season in 1984. Truly she was a woman for all seasons, now deeply and sorely missed.
George Reid Andrews
University of Pittsburgh
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