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In Memoriam - Timothy L. McDaniel

In Memoriam - Timothy L. McDaniel

Timothy Lambert McDaniel, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, died in San Diego on March 10, 2009, after a brave fight against colon cancer that lasted more than a decade.  He was one of the leading comparative-historical sociologists of his generation, an inspiring teacher, and a man of unwavering probity and extraordinary erudition. A dedicated scholar, he contributed greatly to the growth of the university during his three decades on the faculty.

Tim was born in San Francisco, California on October 11, 1947.  He received his undergraduate education at Yale and at the University of California, Santa Cruz, from which he graduated in 1972.   He began his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina, at that time planning to specialize in the study of Latin America  (he had lived for extended periods in Chile and Northeast Brazil), but his growing interest in the comparative study of revolutions prompted him to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley.  At Berkeley, he set about learning the Russian language and read omnivorously, primarily under the guidance of the historian Reginald Zelnik.  Having lived in Chile during the Allende revolution and the US-inspired coup, Tim now turned his attentions to a revolution of much greater notoriety and world-historical consequence.  He was soon busy with a thesis on the Russian labor movement and its connections to the Russian Revolution. Completing his dissertation in 1979, he joined the department at UCSD, a place that would be his intellectual home throughout the remainder of his career.

During his first decade and a half at UCSD, Tim spent three years heading the UC program in the USSR (as it was on the first occasion) and Russia.  Working under often extraordinarily difficult and even dangerous conditions (he arrived in Leningrad, for example, four days after the attempted coup against Gorbachev), he served as a mentor and guide to a generation of students, many of whom became lifelong friends.  In addition, he acquired an extensive first hand acquaintance with Russian culture and society that deepened and enriched his scholarship.  On campus, he played a major role in the foundation of Eleanor Roosevelt College, was very active in the Academic Senate, and served five years as chair of his department.  His courses were always extremely demanding, but they were packed with enthusiastic students, many of whom went on to achieve great distinction in a wide variety of fields.  When the campus instituted an award for its finest teachers, Tim deservedly won the award in its very first year, when competition was fiercest.  And in later years, as he developed an increasing interest in the Islamic world, a still broader array of students flocked to take his classes.

Tim's enduring reputation, beyond his impact on his many students, rests on three remarkable books, each of a very different character.  The first, a revision of his doctoral dissertation, is a massive, magisterial monograph that displays his immense learning, his deep knowledge of archival sources used by few other Western scholars, and his remarkable originality.  Autocracy, Capitalism, and Revolution in Russia (1988) is one of the most outstanding discussions of the revolutionary process in Russia to appear in the past quarter century.

After the outbreak of the Iranian revolution, Tim became fascinated with its similarities and differences with its Russian counterpart, and the upshot was  Autocracy, Modernization and Revolution in Russia and Iran (1991), an incisive and carefully considered book that immediately took its place as one of a handful of seminal studies of comparative revolutions.  The Agony of the Russian Idea which appeared in 1996 is very different again, an extended essay in cultural analysis that draws upon a dazzling range of sources to examine all aspects of Russian society and its culture from Peter the Great to the first years of Boris Yeltsin, and to demonstrate some remarkably stable features that have distinguished Russia under both the Tsars and Communism, and have consistently undermined its failed attempts to modernize.  An intellectual tour de force written by a major scholar at the height of his powers, it was deeply admired (among others) by George Kennan, and by Khrushchev's granddaughter, Nina.  At his death, Tim was at work on a fourth major book, a close interrogation of the relationship between Islam and modernity, an aspect of his growing engagement with the problematic relationships between religion and social change.  That manuscript, sadly, remains incomplete.

Tim is survived by his mother, Eloise McDaniel; by his twin brother Patrick and his wife Debbie and their son, Ryan; and by his sister Cheryl Erickson and her husband, Jim.  He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. 

A memorial to celebrate his life was held at the faculty club at the University of California, San Diego, on Monday, April 13.

Among Tim’s greatest passions was his commitment to educating undergraduates and to encouraging them to travel and study abroad. He played a central role in the establishment of Eleanor Roosevelt College and in defining as its primary goal, the education of students with a global vision. The department has established an award for an outstanding ERC undergraduate, to be given annually.  Those wishing to contribute to this fund may send a check made out to UC Regents to: Fiscal Manager, Sociology Department, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0533 or donate online via our secure online giving site. Just click on the “Give Now” below, go to the "Explore more giving options" section and enter the Sociology McDaniel fund number- R-40803.


Congratulations to the Timothy McDaniel Award recipients:

2009 Jennifer Klimowicz
2010 Deanna Frank
2011 Melissa Karakash
2012 Anne Baker
2013 Mariah Valentine-Graves
2014 Isabella Blasi
2015 Roxana E. Wiswell
2016 Long Thien Truong
2017 Bohai Tan
2018 Cassidy Shapiro
2019 Brian Wong
2020 Katherine Oberman
2021 Michael Murphy
2021 Adam Taryle
2022 Marc Camanag