Categories:  Faculty

Former House of Representatives historian Robert Remini, 1921-2013

Award-winning biographer and former official historian for the U.S. House of Representatives Robert Remini, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, died March 28 at Evanston Hospital after a stroke. He was 91.

Remini’s distinguished career of teaching and writing about American history extended for more than half a century.

The New York Times called him “the foremost Jacksonian scholar of our time.”

His critically acclaimed three-volume Andrew Jackson biography took more than 15 years to complete. The third volume of the series, “Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845,” won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1984.

Remini also authored biographies of Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, as well as a dozen other books on Jacksonian America.

“I’m a narrative historian. I tell a story. Biography is a handy way of doing history, because the chronology has already been prepared for you — a person is born, and then he dies,” he said in a 2000 UIC News profile.

In his most recent work, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union” (2010), Remini detailed Clay’s role in orchestrating what some consider to be a lesser-known but critical moment in American history — the Compromise of 1850.

Remini was official historian for the House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010. He was appointed by Dennis Hastert, then speaker of the House.

Fred Beuttler, who collaborated with Remini on numerous projects at UIC and the House of Representatives, said Remini “reestablished a non-partisan professional office, which helped interpret the institution to members of Congress, teachers, scholars, the press, and the general public.”

“His passion for American history influenced countless students and colleagues, and his legacy will live on in his works of scholarship and in the people whose lives he touched,” Beuttler said.

U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., who introduced legislation commissioning the history of the House, called Remini “one of the nation’s preeminent political historians.”

“His dedication to the country and to the institution of the House of Representatives will not be forgotten,” Larson said. “I join every member both past and present grateful for his invaluable work to honor and preserve the history of this nation.”

Before Remini was named House historian, he was appointed in 2002 as distinguished visiting scholar in American history at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress.

During that time he produced “The House: The History of the U.S. House of Representatives” (2006), the first comprehensive narrative history of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his research for the single-volume, 625-page book, Remini used the Library of Congress collection of manuscripts, congressional records, newspapers, letters and diaries. He also interviewed current and former House members.

He called the House an “extraordinary institution, with its vivid and sometimes outrageous personalities.”

Remini’s book was awarded the 2007 George Pendleton Prize by the Society for History in the Federal Government, which recognizes an outstanding major publication produced by or for a federal history program.

At age 87, Remini authored two more books, the 400-page “A Short History of the United States,” and “Andrew Jackson,” which centers on Jackson’s emergence as a military leader. Also that year he co-edited “Fellow Citizens: The Penguin Book of U.S. Presidential Inaugural Addresses.”

Remini received the 2004 Freedom Award from the United States Capitol Historical Society for his “outstanding contributions to preserving and communicating the history of our nation.” Other honors included the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Award, the Carl Sandburg Award for nonfiction, and the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction.

He delivered two lectures at the White House during his career: a Presidential Lecture in 1991, and the inaugural Heroes of History Lecture in 2003.

Remini was an active member of the national history community and a long-time review board member for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Born in the Bronx and raised in Queens, Remini received his undergraduate degree from Fordham University and served in the Navy during World War II. He later earned his doctorate in history at Columbia University and held teaching appointments at Fordham and Columbia.

In 1965 he joined the UIC faculty, serving as its first chair of history, and was founding director of the UIC Institute for the Humanities. Later he held the position of UIC historian. That office produced “The University of Illinois at Chicago: A Pictorial History” in 2000.

“He had a deep love and commitment to UIC and worked tirelessly to help the young institution reach its potential as one of the premier urban research universities, combining the values of access and excellence,” Beuttler said.

Remini is preceded in death by his wife, Ruth. He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Nielson and Joan Costello; a son, Robert; and three grandchildren.

Services will be Wednesday, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Donnellan Family Funeral Services, 10045 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, Ill., and at noon at Saint Francis Xavier Church, 912 Linden Ave. in Wilmette, Ill.

Donations may be made to the Robert V. Remini Scholarship Fund, University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL, 61801.

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