History Professor Robert Forster dies at 93

Historians in the News
tags: French history, obituary, Johns Hopkins University

Robert Forster, professor emeritus in the Department of History at the Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, died May 12 of congestive heart failure at his home in Cockeysville, Maryland. He was 93.

Forster was renowned for his work on the history of early modern France, publishing seven books on the subject. He made major scholarly contributions through his study of a notable family from the Bordeaux region and a ducal family from Burgundy. Deeply interested in social history, he studied social rank and the relationship between wealth and dignity. In later years, his research turned to the Dominican Republic.

Born in New York City, Forster earned a BA in history from Swarthmore College in 1949, an MA in modern European history from Harvard in 1951, and a PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1956. Research for his doctorate centered on the nobility in and around 18th-century Toulouse, France, a city he loved and where he met his future wife, Elborg Hamacher. The University of Toulouse later awarded him an honorary doctorate.

"As everyone who knew him would agree, Bob was a wonderful person," says Gabrielle Spiegel, a professor in the Department of History. "As John Marshall has said, 'He was kindness personified—gentle, thoughtful, supportive, and encouraging.'"

Spiegel first met Forster as a graduate student in the late 1960s, when she learned "an enormous amount" from him during a field exam in French history. He then advocated for her to be excused from an oral defense of her fields because she had written so much. "This was the kind of intellectual generosity that I think Bob often displayed, along with his kindness and care for students," she says.

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