[URBANTH-L]NEWS: Charles Tilly Dies at 78

Angela Jancius jancius at ohio.edu
Thu May 1 11:46:56 EDT 2008

Respected Professor, Renowned Sociologist Charles Tilly Dies at 78

The Columbia Spectator
By Maggie Astor

Charles Tilly, Columbia's Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science 
and founder of the noted Workshop on Contentious Politics, died April 29 
after a 20-year struggle with cancer that fluctuated in severity. He was 78.

A vigil was held in his memory Tuesday night in front of Fayerweather Hall, 
as an intimate group of about 10 candle-bearing students and colleagues 
gathered beneath his office window to share memories both humorous and 

Sun-Chul Kim, GSAS '08, recalled working in Fayerweather each night until 4 
or 5 in the morning-around the same time Tilly would come in for the day. 
Tilly said "good morning" each time Kim came in-"But he said one time, 
'Goodnight!'" Kim explained, laughing.

Other stories were more profound.

John Krinsky, GSAS '02, recalled one day about eight years ago when he 
looked around Tilly's library-like office and asked why the professor owned 
and wrote so many books."He said, 'I'm just trying to collect as many pieces 
as I can before I die,'" Krinsky recalled.

At the time, Krinsky said, he laughed. "I said, 'You're one of those guys 
who'll live to be 110. You'll outlive me!' He probably knew something I didn't."
Tilly was born in Illinois in 1929. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. from 
Harvard and taught sociology at Harvard, the University of Michigan, and 
elsewhere before coming to Columbia in 1996. He published 51 books and more 
than 600 articles, and his curriculum vitae spans 30 pages.
"It seemed that he could write, interpret, and explain virtually anything to 
curious minds," University President Lee Bollinger wrote in a statement 
released Tuesday. Tilly "literally wrote the book on the contentious 
dynamics and the ethnographic foundations of political history," Bollinger 
During his 12 years at Columbia, Tilly advised 101 Graduate School of Arts 
and Sciences Ph.D. candidates-of whom Kim and Cecelia Walsh-Russo, GSAS '08, 
were the last.

Walsh-Russo, who was also present at the vigil, said she had expected her 
March 6 dissertation defense to proceed without Tilly, who had been in the 

"All of a sudden, there's Chuck in the doorway," she said. The panel offered 
to let Tilly ask his questions first, so he could leave early if he got 
tired. "But he didn't get tired," Walsh-Russo said.

Tilly was perhaps best known for his trademark Workshop on Contentious 
Politics, held regularly at Columbia and various other universities. 
Students and professionals from across the northeast and even the world 
attended to share their work.

"It became an institution. It's what Charles Tilly started and everywhere he 
went he took it with him," said Mona El-Ghobashy, GSAS '06 and a professor 
of political science at Barnard. "Whatever I learned in graduate school, I 
learned at the workshop. It wasn't a class, but people took it even more 
seriously than that."

There was a much-praised rule at the workshop that required non-Ph.D. 
attendees to share their work first. The goal was "to include the young 
people and teach them how to be scholars," El-Ghobashy said.

Despite some trepidation, those at the vigil vowed to continue the workshop 
despite the loss of the "name in lights" Tilly gave, Walsh-Russo said.
The workshop "will go in new directions, and that's what Chuck would want," 
El-Ghobashy said.

While there were some tears, the overall tone of the vigil was one of fond 

"His intellect comes once in a hundred years," Francesca Bremner, GSAS '04, 
said. "He wouldn't show his feelings very much, but when you needed 
protection, you'd see how deeply he cares and how fiercely protective he 

maggie.astor at columbiaspectator.com 

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