Georg Iggers (1926–2017)
Georg Iggers was a historian and social activist whose long career included teaching at Philander Smith College in the 1950s. Iggers, a German native, left Philander Smith in 1957 and eventually settled at the University of Buffalo, where he spent his subsequent four-decade career.
Georg Iggers was born in Hamburg, Germany, on December 7, 1926. He and his Jewish family fled Germany and the Nazis in the fall of 1938. They originally landed in New York City and relocated to Richmond, Virginia, in early 1939. Iggers earned a bachelor’s degree in romance languages from the University of Richmond at the age of seventeen, before going on to earn both a master’s in Germanics and a PhD in history from the University of Chicago. Iggers met Wilma Abeles, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, at the University of Chicago, and they married in 1948.
After finishing their studies—Wilma earned a PhD in Germanic languages and literature—the couple took positions at the historically black Philander Smith College in Little Rock (Pulaski County), where they remained until 1957, and where their three sons were born. While at Philander Smith, the Iggerses were active in the civil rights movement, having joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1951. He served as a member of the organization’s board of directors and chaired its education committee. Iggers was actively involved in the efforts to desegregate Arkansas’s public schools, and he put together a detailed report for the Little Rock NAACP that showed the differences between the city’s black and white high schools. The report would later serve as a foundation for the NAACP’s lawsuit seeking the desegregation of the city’s schools, an effort that would culminate in the historic desegregation of Central High School. In addition, Iggers also played a major role in the successful 1950–1951 effort to get black students access to the Little Rock Public Library.
In 1957, the couple left Philander Smith, accepting positions at another historically black university, Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Georg and Wilma Iggers spent the 1960–61 academic year in France and Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Their European sojourn was extended a year by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Upon their return to the United States, they taught for two more years at Dillard before teaching in Chicago for two years at Roosevelt and Loyola universities.
In 1965, the couple moved north permanently. Iggers joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Buffalo, more commonly referred to as the University of Buffalo, as a professor of European intellectual history, while his wife taught at Canisius College, also in Buffalo. While at Buffalo, his colleagues included labor historian Herbert Gutman and Eugene Genovese, a famous historian of American slavery. Iggers remained actively involved with the NAACP, serving on the board of directors of the Buffalo branch of the organization. He also continued his involvement with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), setting up a cooperative agreement with Philander Smith in an effort to further the efforts of HBCUs.
Iggers was also involved in the peace movement, actively opposing the Vietnam War and serving as an advisor to conscientious objectors. He also arranged for faculty exchanges between American and German colleges, bringing scholars from both East and West Germany to the United States. After over three decades at Buffalo, Iggers officially retired in 1997, although he continued to teach a graduate seminar every fall until 2007. In addition, he held several visiting appointments at universities in Denmark and Australia, as well as the University of Vienna.
Iggers’s publications included The German Conception of History (1968), New Directions in European Historiography (1975), and Historiography in the Twentieth Century (1997). In 2008, he co-authored A Global History of Modern Historiography with Q. Edward Wang and Supriya Mukherjee. He and his wife wrote a memoir, first published in Germany in 2002, titled Two Lives in Uncertain Times. An English version was published in 2006. In 1980, he founded the International Commission on the History of Historiography, a group that included scholars from all over the world. He served as president of the global organization from 1995 to 2000.
Awarded the Order of Merit by German president Horst Kohler for his civil rights work and his efforts to establish a bridge between the scholars of East and West Germany during the Cold War, Iggers was also the recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Richmond, Philander Smith College, and the Technical University in Darmstadt, Germany, as well as fellowships from the American Philosophical Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Following retirement, the couple split their time between Germany and their home in Amherst, New York, where Iggers died on November 26, 2017.
For additional information:
Anderson, Dale. “Georg G. Iggers, Renowned Historian and Civil Rights Activist.” Buffalo News, November 26, 2017. Online at https://buffalonews.com/2017/11/26/georg-g-iggers-renowned-historian-and-civil-rights-activist/ (accessed January 16, 2019).
Iggers, Georg and Wilma. Two Lives in Uncertain Times: Facing the Challenges of the 20th Century as Scholars and Citizens. New York: Berghahn Books, 2006.
“Iggers Bios.” Columbus State University. https://history.columbusstate.edu/events/Iggers%20Bios.pdf (accessed January 16, 2019).
“In Memory of Dr. Georg G. Iggers.” Philander Smith College, December 1, 2017. https://www.philander.edu/news/2017/12/1/in-memory-of-dr-georg-g-iggers (accessed January 16, 2019).
“Passing of Professor Georg Iggers.” University of Buffalo, Department of History, December 4, 2017. http://arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/history/news-events/recent-news.host.html/content/shared/arts-sciences/history/news-events/news/passing-of-professor-georg-iggers.detail.html (accessed January 16, 2019).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 02/19/2020