Jan. 4, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 7

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    Lach, expert on Asian influence in Europe, dies at 83

    Donald Lach, the Bernadotte E. Schmitt Professor Emeritus in History and the nation’s pre-eminent expert on Asia’s influence on the history and development of Europe from 1500 to 1800, died Thursday, Oct. 26, in Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Lach, a resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, was 83.

    Lach was the author of the much-acclaimed Asia in the Making of Europe, the first volume of which was published in two books in 1965 and subtitled, The Century of Discovery. The first book of the second volume, subtitled A Century of Wonder, appeared in 1970; books two and three followed in 1977. The third volume, subtitled A Century of Advance, appeared in 1993, in four books and was co-authored with Edwin Van Kley.

    For his work, Lach went beyond manuscript and book research and examined technology and artifacts to learn about the interchange between Europe and Asia. He developed a reading knowledge of all major Western languages as well as an ability to understand Asian languages. He expanded his research to include botany, geography, ethnography, philosophy, history, medicine, zoology and aesthetics.

    “No one else commanded the vast scholarship of the field of study that Lach pursued the way he did,” said colleague Karl Weintraub, the Thomas E. Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in History.

    “He was a scholar whose subject matter as well as reputation spanned the entire world,” said Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor in History and acting chair of History.

    “Long before globalization assumed its current status, he was analyzing, with great rigor and deep learning, the interaction of many of the world’s civilizations. His work in that area greatly expanded our understanding of the connections that were developing in the early modern world as West met East.”

    Lach was the author or co-author of six other books and numerous articles on China, international relations and other topics.

    He received an A.B. in 1937 at the age of 19 from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. from the University in 1941. His dissertation laid the basis for his future study: “Contributions of China to German Civilization from 1648-1740.” After teaching at Elmira College, he returned to the University in 1948 to join the history faculty.

    He was a Fulbright Scholar in France from 1949 to 1950 and received a Social Science Research grant to do more work in Europe from 1952 to 1953.

    In addition to teaching at the University, he also taught at the National Chegchih University in Taiwan and the National Taiwan University from 1955 to 1966, and the University of Delhi in India from 1967 to 1968.

    A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Lach retired from teaching in 1988, but continued to pursue his scholarly interests.

    He and his wife Alma were masters of the Shoreland Residence Hall at the University and oversaw its conversion in 1978 from a residential hotel to a student residence. They were well known for their hospitality and their work with hundreds of students during their stay, which concluded in 1981.