Retirements / Professor Emeritus Robert "Bob" Abrams

Submitted by Henry J Laufenberg on
Professor Emeritus Robert "Bob" Abrams retires after a five decade career.

With mixed emotions we announce the retirement of our esteemed colleague, Professor Emeritus Robert "Bob" Abrams, after an illustrious career spanning more than five decades with the University of Washington English Department.  Professor Abrams will leave an indelible mark on both our department and the countless lives he has touched throughout his tenure. Through his passion for literature, dedication to students, and diverse, innovative scholarship, Bob Abrams has set a high standard that will continue to resonate and inspire.

Dr. Abrams took an undergraduate degree in English from Dartmouth in 1965, follow in 1973 by a PhD from Indiana University.  A specialist in American literature and culture, Dr. Abrams started faculty life in the UW English Department in 1971, prior to finishing and filing his dissertation at Indiana.  He advised dozens of graduate dissertations in the half-century since, not to mention scores of undergraduate honors theses.  We in fact suspect that many if not the majority of our alums will have fond memories of Bob Abrams’ classes and tutelage, given both his popularity as an enthusiastic and supremely knowledgeable teacher and the enduring popularity of American literature in general and his classes in particular.  “Robert had a gift for reaching out to students from all walks of life,” said Professor Colette Moore. “He taught for many years in the Evening Degree program (UW’s now-discontinued evening classes which served students with non-traditional schedules), and he had a particular commitment to widening the reach of higher education. His students loved him.”

During his time with the UW English Department, Professor Abrams distinguished himself not only as a gifted educator, but also as a scholar whose contributions to American Literature have left lasting impact.  His research interests include cultural constructions of landscape in the antebellum US, nineteenth-century American visual culture, the American Renaissance, American post-Romanticism, psychoanalysis, Gothicism, cartography and architecture. Perhaps the centerpiece of Dr. Abrams’ scholarship is his 2003 book, Landscape and Ideology in American Renaissance Literature. Praised for its originality, Landscape and Ideology argues that new concepts of space and landscape emerged in mid-nineteenth-century American writing, marking a linguistic and interpretative limit to American expansion. The book catalogs radical elements of antebellum writing, wherein American authors of the 1840’s and 1850’s were as much deconstructionist as, in the conventional wisdom, “converters of chaos into an affirmative, liberal agenda.”  Dr. Abrams’ publications have brought complexity to common understandings of 19th Century American literature, deservedly earning recognition as clear-sighted innovation. In addition, Dr. Abrams has published numerous articles, book chapters, and reviews on American literature and culture in such journals as ELH, Nineteenth-Century Literature, American Literature, Walt Whitman Review, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, American Transcendental Quarterly, Arizona Quarterly, Language and Style, MLQ, Comparative Literature Studies, and Philological Quarterly.

He has been awarded a GSRF Summer Grant, a Simpson Center Research Fellowship, and a GSFEI Graduate Faculty International Travel Award. He was named Honorable Mention for the UW Distinguished Teaching Award, was nominated for the UW Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award, and was awarded the English department Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Abrams’ record of department teaching, mentoring, and service has been exemplary.  He has served on several promotion and reappointment committees within and outside the department, has been elected to the EC six times, has served on the GSC, UEC, and Awards and Prizes Committee.  Beyond the department, he has served, just to name a few examples, as a faculty senate representative, on department chair appointment committees, as Secretary and then Presiding Officer of the American Literature Section for the Philological Association of the Pacific Coast, as manuscript reviewer, and as advisory board member for the Prentice-Hall Anthology Of American Literature from 2004-2008.

Beyond the classroom and the pages of academic journals, Professor Abrams has been a mentor and source of wisdom for many, both students and colleagues. “He has always been a wonderful colleague to have, in addition to being a serious scholar,” said Professor Charles LaPorte, “He is fond of gentle teasing and linguistic play.  He has a gift for lightening the mood and enlivening the conversation.  It was always a pleasure to serve on committees with him.”  Indeed, Bob possesses one of the more East Coast personas in our PNW department; his wry but warm and approachable demeanor and quick wit created an environment where students and colleagues felt comfortable soliciting chat and guidance.  Both casually and formally, Dr. Abrams helped shape the careers of younger and aspiring English faculty.  While Professor Abrams may be stepping down from some formal roles within our department, we know that his influence will continue to be felt through the generations of students and colleagues he has inspired. We wish him a retirement filled with new adventures, relaxation, and the joy of knowing that his impact will be felt for years to come.

As English Department Chair Anis Bawarshi notes: “Over the years of working closely with Bob, including several times on the Executive Committee, I have come to count on and appreciate his wisdom, equanimity especially in matters complicated and politically charged, ability to listen and learn and change his mind, humor and good will, and generosity.  His contributions to scholarship, teaching, and service have contributed so much to our intellectual community.  Speaking personally, I will always be grateful to Bob for serving on my promotion committee and how, as someone outside the field of rhetoric and composition studies, he took care in documenting the intellectual value of work I had done as writing program administrator.  It is easy for such work to go un-noticed or under-valued, and Bob made sure that did not happen, and in so doing modeled a collegiality that left me feeling a sense of belonging.”

Please join us in expressing our deepest appreciation for Professor Abrams' invaluable contributions to the University of Washington and in wishing him all the best in this new chapter of his life.