In Memoriam: Ridgway F. Shinn Jr.

Joseph J. Ferreira Jr., November 2009

AHA life member

Ridgway F. Shinn Jr. died December 14, 2006, at age 84. He leaves his wife of 62 years, Clarice Wagner Shinn; his five children: Jenifer Tait, Ridge Shinn, Craig Shinn, Jeremy Shinn, and Beth Shinn; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Ridgway F. Shinn Jr. was professor of history at Rhode Island College, and named professor emeritus upon his retirement. He earned degrees in history at Oberlin College (BA) and at Columbia University (MA and PhD). His tenure at RIC was from 1958 to 1987. He served as the first chairman of the Department of History, the first dean of Arts and Sciences, and vice president for academic affairs. In 1981, he was named distinguished service professor of the college.

A historian with particular interests in Britain, British Empire, and Commonwealth, he taught at all levels of education in Connecticut, California, New York, and Austria. He was a published author of research studies, articles, and reviews. He published a major study in 1990: Arthur Berridale Keith, 1879–1944: The Chief Ornament of Scottish Learning (Aberdeen Univ. Press), a biography of a world authority on Sanskrit, Oriental studies, and the constitution of the British Empire.
Shinn was the recipient of multiple grants, awards, and honors associated with his scholarship. He received grants from the Canadian government for studies in Canada, from the Scottish Arts Council, and from the Rhode Island College Faculty Research Fund. In 1982, he was named an honorary life member of Friends of Edinburgh University Library in recognition of the work he did in preparation of the Guide to Keith’s papers in that library.

In the mid-1960s, he was the project director for the Providence Social Studies Curriculum Project, curriculum research and revision from kindergarten through 12th grade, which was undertaken with major grants from the U.S. Office of Education (1964–65 and 1966–69). This project designed a model for linking academic resources of Rhode Island College to curriculum revision and social studies content in cooperation with teachers and staff of the Providence Public Schools. The results were reported in July 1970 as “A Study of a Geo-Historical Structure for a Social Studies Curriculum” (Cooperative Research Project 6-1195-1-10-1; U.S. Department of Education).

Shinn was a member and leader of many professional organizations and academic societies over his career including the American Historical Association (life member), New England Historical Association (executive committee 1978–81 and 1986–88; vice president and program chair 1984–85; president 1985–86; executive secretary 1986–87), North American Conference on British Studies, Rhode Island Historical Society, and Rhode Island Social Studies Association (president, 1961–64). He maintained membership in Kappa Delta Pi (education) and Phi Alpha Theta (history) honor societies.

In the community, Ridgway served in leadership roles with many boards, commissions, and civic organizations including the Governing Board of the RI State Council of Churches; the Board of Directors of the American Heart Association (RI Affiliate); Cub Scouts (Cubmaster, Pack 1 Johnston, RI 1960–63); Rhode Island State CROP, a hunger advocacy organization; Rhode Island Chamber Music Series; Dodeka; and the Board of Directors of the Elizabeth J. Johnson Pawtucket History Research Society. His leadership was widely felt in the Methodist Church locally at Mathewson Street Church, United Methodist Elder Care, and in district and national governing boards.

An accomplished organist and pianist, Ridgway studied organ at Oberlin and studied piano in Vienna for two years with Paul Weingarten of the Vienna Academy of Music. He served as organist in churches in Waterbury, Connecticut; Reedley, California; Mamaroneck, New York; and most recently at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, Rhode Island. He also served as choirmaster in several of these appointments. He enjoyed performing chamber music with colleagues from the music department at RIC and performing solo organ recitals.

On his retirement, he and Clarice initiated the Ridgway F. Shinn Jr. Study Abroad Fund at Rhode Island College. Clarice and Ridgway traveled extensively in the United States and throughout the world. They personally supported children and grandchildren in foreign travel to generate an understanding of other cultures, traditions, and governments. The Shinn Study Abroad Fund extends this interest and commitment to RIC students. The fund is dedicated to helping RIC undergraduates study outside the United States. To date more than 44 students have studied abroad as Shinn Study Abroad Fellows, with study travel in countries spanning the globe, such as Armenia, Egypt, Chile, and Palestine. This fund is one of the designated funds for memorial donations.

Memorial contributions can be sent to the Shinn Study Abroad Fund at Rhode Island College Foundation, RIC Development Office, 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI 02908.

—Joseph J. Ferreira Jr., H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences On-Line and King Philip Regional High School