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In memoriam: Albert Hartung, University Distinguished Professor

In the weeks since his death at the age of 80, colleagues of Albert Hartung, a University Distinguished Professor of English at Lehigh and renowned expert in Middle English and literature, mourned the loss of a man they described as “utterly devoted to Lehigh and to his scholarship.”

“He was an excellent teacher and gave the best Ph.D. exams of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” says long-time friend and colleague Barb Traister, professor of English. “I learned so much from him.”

Traister also recalled that Hartung was chair of the department when it hired four female professors—including Traister—in just a two-year period.

“English suddenly became the Lehigh department with the most women faculty,” she says. “And he was a great colleague, cooperative even when he may not have approved of a decision.”

Rosemary Mundhenk, professor of English, notes that Hartung would have been surprised to hear himself described as a feminist, but that he was, in actuality, “a leading force in introducing women faculty into the English department during the 1970s, and for significantly increasing the number of women in the college and the university.”

An indispensable reference work

Pete Beidler, the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English, describes Hartung as “a totally Lehigh person” for earning all three of his degrees here and teaching for several decades after that.

“He was known for his geniality and great humor in the classroom as he lovingly introduced a couple of generations of undergraduate and graduate students to the wonders of medieval literature, especially Chaucer,” says Beidler, who notes that Hartung was also a specialist in teaching the fairy tale.

Hartung’s crowning achievement as a scholar was the editorship of the monumental reference work, A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, which was begun by his mentor at Lehigh, J. Burke Severs.

“Al completed the next eight volumes and was working on volume 11 at the time of his death,” Beidler says. “The Manual is an indispensable reference work for all medievalists, and copies of it are available in virtually every research library in the world.”

Largely on the basis of this work, Beidler notes, Hartung was the first member of the humanities faculty to be honored with the Joseph F. Libsch Research Award in 1986.

A man of infinite curiosity and love of knowledge, Hartung was also passionate about his interests, which included his family, dogs, trains, birds, fishing, fine food, fencing and hunting morel mushrooms.

“He loved to cook, and on a daily basis, not just the occasional barbecue,” recalls Mundhenk. “And he was absolutely devoted to his wife, Ruth, for his whole life—so much so that he really never recovered from her unexpected death in 1996, which was shortly after his retirement.”

Adds Beidler: “I knew him for 40 of his 80 years, and he never lost that wonderful grin or sharp twinkle in his eye. He never stopped caring about his family, his students or the life of the mind. He was a fine man.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004

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