Duke Flags Lowered: Longtime Duke Historian Robert Durden Dies at Age 90

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Robert Durden



Longtime Duke history professor Robert Durden, who wrote the definitive study of the Duke family and the founding of Duke University, died March 4. He was 90. 

"Bob Durden was a brilliant historian and fine leader of the Department of History for more than three decades,” said William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor Emeritus of History. “His scholarship helped illuminate the history of Duke University from its founding to the present, while his books on the American South informed a generation of American historians. He had a grace, a charm and a dedication to Duke and its history that enhanced all of us."

Born May 10, 1925, in Graymont, Georgia, he went to Emory University but interrupted his study to serve as an Navy ensign in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, he returned to Emory to complete his bachelor's and master's degrees in American history. He then received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

He married Anne Oller Durden in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, in 1952. Their honeymoon was the drive to Durham where Durden took up his teaching position at Duke. He taught American history for 49 years at Duke, writing many books, the most remembered being “The Dukes of Durham.” Published by Duke University Press, the book is the history of Washington Duke and two of his sons, Benjamin Newton Duke and James Buchanan Duke. 

In 1993, he published “The Launching of Duke University, 1924-1949,” beginning with its creation in 1924 as a new institution organized around Trinity College. The focus on the university's most formative and critical years showcased the efforts of President William Preston Few, his successes and the painful challenges that faced the young institution. ...




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