J. Russell Major (1921-98)
AHA Staff, November 1999
The distinguished scholar of French history, J. Russell Major, died of cancer on December 12, 1998, at the age of 77.
Major graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1942 and went on to serve with great distinction in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry, a Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
Following the war, he attended Princeton University on the G.I. Bill and received the PhD in 1949. Major then joined the history faculty at Emory University, and remained there until his retirement in 1990. His service there included three terms as departmental chair, and in 1980, he was named Charles Howard Candler Professor of Renaissance History.
Major wrote 10 books, including Representative Government in Early Modern France and From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy: French Kings, Nobles and Estates, which received the Leo Gershoy Award of the AHA for outstanding work in 17th- and 18th-century European history. Shortly before his death he completed work on a memoir of his experiences in the war, The Memoirs of an Artillery Forward Observer, 1944–1945. He also wrote numerous scholarly articles, including "The Crown and the Aristocracy in Renaissance France," for the AHR.
His research won national and international acclaim, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, two Guggenheim Fellowships, two years at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1965–66, he held a visiting appointment at Harvard University. In 1986, he received Emory University's highest service honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award.
Major is survived by his wife Blair; son Russell; daughters Blair Louise, Randon, and Clara Jean; and six grandchildren.