CCAS MOURNS THE PASSING OF DR. JOHN RUEDY - Center for Contemporary Arab Studies | Georgetown University


Photo of Dr. John Ruedy

The CCAS community was deeply saddened by the recent loss of one of its preeminent founders, early visionaries, and longtime supporters, Dr. John Ruedy. A veteran of World War II, Dr. Ruedy was born on April 28, 1927 in Alameda, CA and served in the United States Army. He attended Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley on the GI Bill, and earned his PhD from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1965. An internationally respected historian of the modern Middle East with a long and distinguished career at Georgetown, Dr. Ruedy played the lead role in the establishment of the Master of Arts in Arab Studies program at CCAS in 1978. All of us at CCAS extend our deepest condolences to Nancy Ruedy, John’s wife and partner of 63 years, and to his many friends and family.

Remembrances from CCAS Family 

I join with many colleagues and former students in mourning the loss of Professor John (Jack) Ruedy, a man of significant scholarly achievements, the highest integrity, and great personal warmth. Jack was my senior colleague in the field of Middle East and North African history when I first came to Georgetown as a junior professor, and he proved to be a caring and loyal mentor whose work and life served as a model for me and many others. Jack wrote the classic book on the history of Algeria, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation, a book that received accolades, went through two editions, and is still serving as a touchstone for historians of North Africa. He engaged deeply with the theories and practices of settler colonialism in Algeria, an interest that also informed his work on the history of land alienation in Palestine, an early and signal contribution to Palestinian studies. Jack was also an engaging teacher. His talents as a lecturer were recognized by the Department of History some years ago with the establishment of the John Ruedy General Education Award, given each year to a graduate student teacher who excels as a lecturer in a large introductory class. And several generations of Georgetown students crowded into his History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, a course that he handled with a sensitivity and historical depth that disarmed and educated even the most partisan. He also made Georgetown a go-to place for graduate study of the history of North Africa, and his former doctoral students are making their mark in the field, including our own Professor Osama Abi-Mershed. Jack shouldered administrative burdens as well. He was the founder, and my predecessor as director, of the Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS) program. Many of the hallmarks of MAAS still bear his imprint – his insistence on mastery of Arabic and his belief that one could not know the Arab World without sustained study of its history and culture as well as its politics and economics. Those who knew Jack also recognized him as a man of social graces, shared generously with family and friends. I remember back-yard cookouts hosted by Jack and his wife Nancy that always meant good food and drink and conversation. He did not hold forth, he made us comfortable, drew us out, and gathered us in. I arrived at Georgetown in 1983 as a young woman, unsure of her place in what was then a mostly older and male department. Jack treated me as a respected colleague and never seemed to notice my age or gender. I am deeply grateful for the support he gave me and for the example he set.



In 1997, I was privileged to be accepted to the Georgetown University Department of History to study with Dr. John Ruedy, the dean of Algerian studies in the US. I still recall the thrill of finally finding my intellectual and academic home in Prof. Ruedy’s engaging seminars and colloquia on North Africa. For all his professional distinctions and scholarly achievements, Prof. Ruedy was above all a generous and caring mentor. In 1998, he invited me to design with him a one-on-one tutorial on post-colonial theory and critique in order to gain greater fluency in this body of literature. In his words, we were soon transformed into “two neophytes” poring over novel material and marveling at the new theoretical horizons before our eyes. I was particularly rewarded by Prof. Ruedy’s enthusiasm for this multifaceted literature, and deeply marked by his candidness in revising a few of his former reflections on colonial and national historiography. Indeed, he quickly began to incorporate “post-colonial” paradigms and concepts into his ongoing research, namely his biographies of prominent jeunes algériens like Ferhat Abbas and Chérif Benhabylès. Since then, I have always done my best to follow Prof. Ruedy’s example and pay homage to his refreshing openness to new learning and new ideas. His unrelenting passion for advancing his and our understanding of North African history was the very summation of his erudite intellect and sprightly spirit, and I am forever grateful for his willingness to shepherd me with patience and humor on my own journey of academic discovery.



I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend and colleague Professor John Ruedy. Jack was an internationally respected historian of the modern Middle East and his book on Algeria is a classic. He had a long and distinguished career at Georgetown and was known as one of the most effective teachers in the History Department. He was also one of the founders of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and played the lead role in the establishment of the Master’s Program in Arab Studies. I remember Jack in four ways—as a scholar, as a teacher, as an administrator, and as a friend. From his doctoral study on French colonialism in Algeria to his major book on the modern history of Algeria, Jack brought scholarly rigor to analyzing the entire Middle East. Meticulous attention to sources was a hallmark of his work, and he cast a skeptical eye on the challenge to “Orientalism” in Middle East studies. He was a demanding mentor of Ph.D students, and he produced some of the outstanding current generation of Middle East historians, such as Julia Clancy-Smith and Osama Abi-Mershed. He set high standards for Georgetown’s Master’s degree students in Arab studies. One of Georgetown’s most popular courses was his History of the Arab-Israeli conflict; it was always oversubscribed, and he was scrupulous in representing the alternative narratives. Even though academic service is ranked behind scholarship and teaching in the evaluation of Georgetown’s professors, Jack did not shirk administrative tasks. Indeed, he was the driving force behind the creation of the highly successful Master’s Program in Arab Studies. On the personal level, we had a long friendship going back to 1975 when he and others welcomed me to Georgetown. Over the many years that I was Director of CCAS, we worked together as a team. I fondly recall our regular lunches together at the Tombs and our debates about the relative merits of history and political science. One incident I will never forget: on a trip to Baghdad in the mid-1980s we set out for our morning jog (Jack was a dedicated runner) and were set upon by a pack of wild dogs—if it had been the Olympics he would have taken the gold (and I, perhaps, the silver) as we raced to escape them. Jack Ruedy was a Georgetown icon; his contributions will long survive him.