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Skidmore College
Skidmore Retirees

Daniel Balmuth

Daniel Balmuth, a scholar of the Soviet Union and Russia and a member of the history faculty for 40 years, died Friday, March 8, 2013, at Saratoga Hospital.

Born June 20, 1929, in New York City, Dan earned a bachelor’s degree in history at City College and continued his education at Cornell University, where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in Russian history and received Cornell’s Boldt and White fellowships. He was an assistant instructor at Cornell from 1951 to 1953.

Returning to New York City, he married Rita Jacknow in 1953. The couple stayed in New York City briefly while he continued working on his dissertation and she taught grade school. Then he taught at the State University Teachers College at Plattsburgh and at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., before joining the Skidmore community in 1958.

Dan was known for his deep reverence for history as a discipline, his extraordinary memory, and his detailed and painstaking scholarship. In 1962 he was awarded a Fulbright grant enabling him and his family to live in Helsinki, Finland, for a year while he conducted research. He also received a 1994 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a summer seminar in Moscow.

Steven Hoffmann, professor emeritus of government, who knew Dan for more than 40 years, called him “a great and loyal friend” and “a terrific scholar.” The two used to jog and later walk together regularly. During these times, according to Hoffmann, “Dan would talk to me about his ideas—he was full of ideas, based upon what he’d read.”

Dan was the author The Origins of the Tsarist Epoch of Censorship Terror (1960), Censorship in Russia, 1865-1905 (1979), and “The Russian Bulletin,” 1863-1917: A Liberal Voice in Tsarist Russia (2000).

A highly regarded teacher, Dan left a profound mark on his students. David Moses ’84, who majored in history, endowed Skidmore’s Balmuth Lecture Series, launched in 2001, because “Dan Balmuth consistently pursued the study of history with an openness to new information and different historical perspectives.” The lecture series expressed David’s “deep appreciation and gratitude for Dan’s many years of service” to the College.

Kevin Callahan ’92, a professor of history at the University of St. Joseph in Connecticut, acknowledged Dan in his book Demonstration Culture, European Socialism and the Second International, 1889-1914 (2010). Kevin wrote, “As an undergraduate student, I can attest to the powerful influences of inspiring professors, specifically political scientist Roy H. Ginsberg and historian Daniel Balmuth, both of whom nourished my intellectual interests beyond the narrow perspective of a single academic discipline.” He added, “Professor Balmuth reinforced my desire to become a college professor and historian.”

Along with being devoted to scholarship, teaching, Skidmore, and his family, Dan was also a person of deep faith. He and Rita were among the pioneers in the establishment of Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs in 1965, and the temple and its community became a central part of their lives.

Hoffmann, also was a Temple Sinai member, recalled, “In the early years, I was impressed by Dan’s knowledge of Hebrew and of what was in the service. I was being taught the Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew, which is standard now, but Dan stuck with the old European, or Ashkenazi, style of pronunciation. I was impressed by how well he knew it and how musical it was.” He added, “Whenever songs came along in the service, he had a rich bass voice and a keen knowledge of the tunes.”

Dan was a valued member of the temple’s Torah study group, and in recent months the group moved its weekly meetings to the Balmuth home to accommodate Dan’s condition and benefit from his continued involvement.

Dan is survived by his beloved wife, Rita, and their children Susan (David Horne) of Seattle, David (Randi Cigelnik) of Chicago, and Michael (Jill) of Boston, and by five grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother Jerome, sisters Lorraine Widman and Marilyn Stolove, and many nieces and nephews.

Dan’s commitment to teaching and scholarship, as well as his friendship to students and colleagues, will long be remembered.