• John R. Gillis
  • John R. Gillis
  • Professor Emeritus of History
  • Degree: Ph.D., Stanford University
  • Additional Degree(s): B.A., Amherst College






Professor Emeritus John Gillis died on December 7, 2021.  He was 82.  John was a remarkable (and remarkably wide-ranging) historian who began as a scholar of the nineteenth-century Prussian bureaucracy, went on to write pioneering books on the social history of youth and the family in modern Britain, before turning to studies of the history of memory and ritual, and, finally, to a series of publications in the history of the Atlantic world, islands, and the coastal environment.  He arrived at Rutgers in 1971 and was a hugely influential figure in the university and the department.  He served as the chair of the Livingston College department (1972-4, 1975-77) and of the consolidated department from 1984 to 1987, and he was the director of the inaugural RCHA project on "The Historical Construction of Identities" (1989-1991).  He retired in 2005.  John was deeply committed to the university and to the History department.  The copies of his books in the chair's office all carry a typically forthright handwritten inscription.  The most recent, dated May 2010, simply reads, "To the Best Department in the World--may it ever be so".

Click HERE for an obituary published by the American Historical Association (AHA).



His work had been largely in social and cultural history, covering a variety of periods, subjects, and geographical areas. He began as a German historian and moved to British history, becoming interested in age relations, marriage, memory, and family cultures. Over time, his work become more global, employing the insights of cultural geography as well as environmental history. In 2004 he published Islands of the Mind, a study of the place of the insular in western culture. He also published The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History with University of Chicago Press. It is a global environmental history of coasts and coastal peoples from prehistory to the present, making the case that they have been a neglected past which must be recovered if the shore is to have a sustainable future. After retiring from Rutgers, he had been living in Berkeley, Caiifornia, spending summers on a small island (Great Gott Island) in the Gulf of Maine. For more on his post-Rutgers doings, google "John R Gillis."


  • The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History (Chicago, 2012)
  • Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
  • The Prussian Bureacuracy in Crisis, 1840-60 (Stanford, 1971)
  • Youth and History: Tradition and Change in European Age Relations, 1750-Present (Academic, 1975)
  • Development of European Society, 1770-1870 (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)
  • For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the present (Oxford, 1985)
  • A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values (Basic, 1996)

Books Editied

  • Becoming Historians, with James Banner (Chicago, 2009)
  • The Militarization of the Western World (Rutgers, 1989)
  • The European Experience of Declining Fertility, with D. Levine and L. Tilly (Blackwell, 1992)
  • Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton, 1996)


  • Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1988
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, 1993-4
  • Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, 2001


  • American Association of University Professors
  • American Historical Association
  • World History Association
  • Council on Contemporary Families (former national co-chair)