In Memoriam: Professor Stuart ‘Stu’ McConnell

Pitzer professor Stuart McConnell, who worked at the college for more than 30 years, died Feb. 14. (Courtesy of Pitzer College)

Pitzer College history professor emeritus Stuart “Stu” McConnell, an integral part of the college’s faculty for more than three decades, died Feb. 14 surrounded by family following a multi-year “courageous struggle to recover from a major illness,” Pitzer President Melvin Oliver told the community in a message on Pitzer’s website.

McConnell received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and master’s degree and doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He was an expert in American social and cultural history, labor history, Victoriana, nationalism and media history according to his staff profile.

He also specialized in the Civil War and Reconstruction, and wrote a book entitled “Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900,” which the Library Journal acclaimed as “provocative social history.”

Scripps College history professor Julia Liss, who taught a U.S. survey history course with McConnell, praised him as “patient, smart and demanding.”

“[His] retirement celebration in October showed, in full force, how central teaching was to him and the impact he made on his students and colleagues.” she said. “Although his death is incredibly sad, he was able to provide a legacy through his students. No teacher could ask for anything more.”

During his time at Pitzer, McConnell was awarded several federally funded Teaching American History grants, which brought elementary and high school teachers to Pitzer during summers to prepare them to teach their students, according to Tomás F. Summers Sandoval, Jr., an associate professor of history and chicana/o latina/o studies at Pomona College.

“Stu’s love of history, of teaching and of working with others were all on display during those summers,” Sandoval said.

McConnell was known for his thoughtful approach to teaching and critiquing writing, as well as creative assignments and events, according to Wendy Cheng, chair of Scripps’ American Studies Department, and a friend of McConnell. The two taught an introductory American studies course together in spring 2017.

Jade Finlinson PZ ’15 was a student and advisee of McConnell. She is planning to pursue a doctorate in history while continuing research she started under McConnell’s guidance.

“I will always have Stu as a reader in my mind, and I will miss having his spirit and intelligence as a guide in my life,” Jade Finlinson PZ ’15 said.

“I will always have Stu as a reader in my mind, and I will miss having his spirit and intelligence as a guide in my life,” she said.

McConnell was also deeply dedicated to the discipline of history. In a video following his retirement promoting the “Stu Fund” for the department’s growth and development, McConnell said he “loved every minute of” his 30 years at Pitzer.

Pitzer history and anthropology professor Dan Segal said McConnell was dedicated to promoting justice and including marginalized narratives in his courses.

“Moreover, over the very decades when wealth and income inequality increased in the U.S., Stu insisted on teaching labor history, despite its unpopularity in those years,” Segal said. “Stu was a dedicated teacher, a gifted crafter of prose, a nuanced thinker and a person of the greatest decency. The world is different without Stu — in the worst of ways.”

McConnell worked with the founding faculty of Pitzer, and helped to shape the history department, said Andre Wakefield, a Pitzer history professor.

“He was really dedicated to the mission of the college,” Wakefield said. “He was a real Pitzer patriot.”

Students characterized McConnell as a unique professor.

“You don’t replace him. You just hope that others continue to honor him by doing their best impression,” Peter Cohen PZ ’92 said in a 2018 Pitzer College Magazine feature celebrating his retirement.

Adam Taslitz PO ’21 studied with McConnell during his final semester teaching in fall 2018.

“It was definitely the class I’ll look back on that ignited my passion. … It definitely didn’t seem like a job to him — it was his passion,” Taslitz said.

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