John D. Bell (1942-98)
James S. Grubb, May 1999
Prof. John D. Bell of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) history department died of cancer on December 4, 1998, the day after his 56th birthday.
Prof. Bell earned the BA in 1964 and the MA in 1965, both at Yale University and both in Russian and east European studies. He completed the PhD in history at Princeton University in 1970. He joined the UMBC faculty that year, and rose steadily to the rank of full professor.
While he taught widely at UMBC, directing courses in Western civilization, world history, Russian history, and eastern European history, his scholarly activities focused on 20th-century Bulgaria. His first book, Peasants in Power: Alexander Stamboliski and the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union, 1899–1923, was published by Princeton University Press in 1975. Thereafter he published several articles, books, and book chapters on Bulgarian history, including annual essays on Bulgaria for the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs series. With the collapse of the communist regime, Prof. Bell's attention turned to modernization and democratization in Bulgaria. This past summer, Westview Press published Bulgaria in Transition: Politics, Economics, Society, and Culture after Communism, which he edited and to which he contributed three essays.
The high quality and high volume of Prof. Bell's work earned him a position of leadership in Bulgarian studies. For the past several years he served as director of the Bulgarian area studies program for the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, directing the training of diplomats who were to be stationed in the Balkans. He was president of the Bulgarian Studies Association from 1988–92, and was an official observer of the June 1990 Bulgarian elections. In 1984 the Bulgarian State Council awarded him the "1300 Year—Bulgaria" medal for "service to Bulgarian studies." He was a member of many academic associations, and was a frequent participant in scholarly conferences and seminars.
At UMBC, Prof. Bell was an effective teacher and an affable colleague. Students appreciated his well-crafted, substantial lectures, as well as his wry humor and fluid presentation. He served the UMBC community in several capacities, most notably as chair of committees charged with restructuring and overseeing the undergraduate curriculum. Within the history department, Prof. Bell was known and appreciated for his willingness to teach whatever needed teaching, for his commitment to and hard work for the department, and for his service to students.
Shortly before his death, in a characteristically generous gesture, Prof. Bell announced his intention to endow the department's Maas Prize, named for a colleague who also had died tragically and young, and awarded annually to the outstanding undergraduate history student. The award has been renamed the Bell-Maas Prize.
He is survived by his wife Judith; his daughters Kimberly, Courtney, and Tamsin; and his stepdaughter Lindsey Ann Court.
—James S. Grubb
University of Maryland Baltimore County