Timothy McDaniel, Professor of Sociology at UC San Diego, died on March 10, 2009, after a brave fight against colon cancer. He was one of the leading comparative-historical sociologists of his generation, an inspiring teacher, and a man of unwavering probity and extraordinary erudition. A dedicated scholar, he contributed greatly to the growth of the university during his three decades on the faculty.
Tim was born in San Francisco on October 11, 1947. He received his undergraduate education at Yale and at UC Santa Cruz. He began his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina planning to specialize in the study of Latin America, but his growing interest in the comparative study of revolutions prompted him to transfer to Berkeley. At Berkeley, he set about learning the Russian language and read omnivorously, primarily under the guidance of the historian Reginald Zelnik. Having lived in Chile during the Allende revolution and the US-inspired coup, Tim turned his attentions to a revolution of much greater notoriety and world-historical consequence. He was soon busy with a thesis on the Russian labor movement and its connections to the Russian Revolution. Completing his dissertation in 1979, he joined the department at UCSD, a place that would be his intellectual home throughout the remainder of his career.
Tim spent three years heading the UC program in the USSR and Russia. Working under often extraordinarily difficult and even dangerous conditions he served as a mentor and guide to a generation of students, many of whom became lifelong friends. In addition, he acquired an extensive first hand acquaintance with Russian culture and society that deepened and enriched his scholarship. On campus, he played a major role in the foundation of Eleanor Roosevelt College, was very active in the Academic Senate, and served five years as chair of his department. His courses were always demanding, but they were packed with enthusiastic students. When the campus instituted an award for its finest teachers, Tim deservedly won the award in its very first year. As he developed an increasing interest in the Islamic world, a still broader array of students flocked to take his classes.
Tim's enduring reputation rests on three remarkable books. The first displays his immense learning, his deep knowledge of archival sources used by few other Western scholars, and his remarkable originality. Autocracy, Capitalism, and Revolution in Russia (1988) is one of the most outstanding discussions of the revolutionary process in Russia to appear in the past quarter century. After the outbreak of the Iranian revolution, Tim became fascinated with its similarities and differences with its Russian counterpart, and the upshot was Autocracy, Modernization and Revolution in Russia and Iran (1991), an incisive and carefully considered book that immediately took its place as one of a handful of seminal studies of comparative revolutions. The Agony of the Russian Idea (1996) is an extended essay in cultural analysis that draws upon a dazzling range of sources to examine all aspects of Russian society and its culture from Peter the Great to the first years of Yeltsin, and to demonstrate some remarkably stable features that have distinguished Russia under both the Tsars and Communism, and have consistently undermined its failed attempts to modernize. An intellectual tour de force written by a major scholar at the height of his powers, it was deeply admired (among others) by George Kennan, and by Khrushchev's granddaughter, Nina. At his death, Tim was at work on a fourth major book, a close interrogation of the relationship between Islam and modernity, an aspect of his growing engagement with the problematic relationships between religion and social change. That manuscript, sadly, remains incomplete.
Tim is survived by his mother, Eloise McDaniel; his twin brother Patrick, his wife Debbie and their son, Ryan; and by his sister Cheryl Erickson and her husband, Jim. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. A memorial to celebrate his life was held at UCSD on Monday, April 13, 2009.
The department has established an annual prize for an outstanding Eleanor Roosevelt college undergraduate. Those wishing to contribute to this fund should send a check to UCSD Department of Sociology, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0533, La Jolla, CA 92093.
by Andrew Skull, Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego