Johannsen, Robert Walter (1925-) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Johannsen, Robert Walter (1925-)

Historical Note:

Robert Walter Johannsen (1925-2011) was associate professor of history (1959-62); professor of history (1962-2000); head of the Department of History (1962-66); J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History (1974-2000); and professor emeritus (2000-11) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He was a renowned educator and an award-winning historian, who specialized in nineteenth-century American history.

Johannsen was born in Portland, Oregon, on August 22, 1925. His undergraduate studies at Reed College were interrupted by his service in the US Army during WWII (1943-46); he graduated with a bachelor's degree in history in 1948. Johannsen earned a PhD in history from the University of Washington (UW) in 1953 and subsequently taught at UW (1953-54), the University of Wisconsin (1954), and the University of Kansas (1954-59) before joining the faculty at UIUC in 1959.

At UIUC, Johannsen proved to be a popular and dedicated educator. His courses included Nineteenth-Century America, Jacksonian America, and the History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Johannsen authored many scholarly publications, including the books Frontier Politics on the Eve of the Civil War (1955), To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination (1985), The Frontier, the Union, and Stephen A. Douglas (1989), and Lincoln, the South, and Slavery: The Political Dimension (1989). Johannsen received the Society of American Historians' 1974 Francis Parkman Prize for Literary Distinction in the Writing of History for his book Stephen A. Douglas (1973). He was a Guggenheim Fellow (1967â??68), an appointee to the UIUC Center for Advanced Study (1968), and the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lincoln College in Illinois (1983). In 1995, the Robert W. Johannsen Undergraduate Scholarship Fund was established in his honor. He retired from UIUC in 2000, and his final, unfinished project was a biography of James K. Polk.

Johannsen married Lois A. Calderwood (d. 2008) on March 19, 1949, and together they had two children, Nancy and Robert. He died in Urbana, Illinois, on August 16, 2011.


John Hoffmann, "In Memoriam: Robert W. Johannsen (1925â??2011)," Perspectives on History, December 1, 2011, accessed May 27, 2020,

Diane P. Koenker, "Robert W. Johannsen, 1925â??2011,

Historian, Teacher, and Mentor," History Illinois (Spring 2012), accessed May 27, 2020,

"Robert Johannsen," News Gazette, August 25, 2011, accessed May 27, 2020,

Bruce Tap, "A Tribute to Robert W. Johannsen," Civil War History 60, no. 1 (March 2014): 78â??82. Accessed May 28, 2020,

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