University of Washington

Herbert J. Ellison (1929-2012)

Herbert J. Ellison, Professor of History and International Studies emeritus at the University of Washington died on October 9, 2012. He was one of the world’s leading figures in the field of Soviet and post-Soviet studies. Born in Portland, Oregon, Ellison received his BA and MA degrees in history from the University of Washington. He wrote his doctoral dissertation while on a Fulbright fellowship at the University of London, under the supervision of the eminent historian Hugh Seton-Watson. He held faculty positions at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Kansas before returning to the UW in 1968 where he taught for 34 years until his retirement in 2002.

Besides serving for five years as director of the Jackson School of International Studies at the University, he also held leadership positions in many major national organizations, most notably as director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington, D.C. where his role as a government advisor during the last years of the Cold War was recognized by President Ronald Reagan. Ellison took the national lead in establishing language programs in Russia where American students could study. He wrote on diverse aspects of Soviet history and post-Soviet international relations, including important works on Soviet foreign policy toward Western Europe, Sino-Soviet relations, the nature of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the role of post-Soviet Russia in the changing international arena of Northeast Asia.

Professor Ellison also served as Executive Producer and Chief Consultant for the highly-regarded PBS/BBC television series Messengers from Moscow on the history of the Cold War and the PBS documentary Yeltsin, which was nominated for an Emmy award. Along with Ellison’s remarkable record of scholarship, he was one of the most beloved teachers at the University of Washington. His undergraduate courses on the history of communism and on Soviet and Russian history were perennial favorites, and many of his graduate students went on to distinguished academic careers of their own. His longtime colleague, Kenneth Pyle, called him a “a prime reason for the University’s world prominence in international studies.” His family and friends have established in his honor the Ellison professorship in Russian studies also given his name to the Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies program in the Jackson School.