It is with great sadness that we share the news of former ASA President Dr. Bruce Berman’s passing earlier this month. The obituary below was kindly shared by his family. Public tributes or memorials to his life may be posted on the original site here.
In Memoriam: Professor Bruce J. Berman
It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Bruce J. Berman on January 6, 2024, a distinguished scholar, devoted educator, and esteemed colleague at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Professor Berman’s remarkable career spanned decades, leaving an indelible mark on the North American African Studies community and the lives of those fortunate enough to know him.
Professor Berman’s field of scholarly interest was the political economy of development, especially among post-Colonial, independent African nations, conducting research in Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. His work initially focused on the political economy of the colonial state in Africa, and its impact on African societies. Starting in the 1990s, his work shifted toward the development of modern African ethnicities and their political expression.
Professor Berman’s academic journey led him to the Department of Political Science at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, where he served as faculty from 1971 to 2003, and Emeritus thereafter. He was a recurrent Visiting Fellow at Wolfson and Trinity Colleges at the University of Cambridge, also holding visiting appointments at the University of Nairobi, the University of Sussex, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Cape Town, Australian National University and the University of Melbourne.
Renowned for his insightful analyses and research, he became a leading figure of African Studies in North America, serving as the President of both the Canadian and American African Studies Associations. In 2006, Professor Berman became the Principal Investigator of the Ethnicity and Democratic Governance Program (EDG), the first Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) grant received at Queen’s University. For six years, it brought together more than three dozen leading, international thinkers to explore the complex issues involved with governing multiethnic democracies.
Professor Berman’s publications, including influential, prize-winning books and articles, reflected his commitment to advancing our understanding of complex political, historical and cultural issues. His work will continue to shape discussions in African Studies, leaving a meaningful impact on the academic landscape. His contributions to his field were vast and impactful, earning him the admiration and respect of colleagues and students alike.
Beyond his scholarly achievements, Professor Berman was a cherished mentor to generations of students. His passion for teaching and his ability to inspire critical thinking left an enduring legacy. Many remember him not only for his intellectual rigor but also for his warmth, kindness, and genuine concern for the success of his students.
Professor Berman’s training was the culmination of distinguished studies at Yale University (M.A., Ph.D), the London School of Economics (M. Phil.), Dartmouth College (B.A.) and Horace Mann High School. He held these institutions in the highest esteem, proudly aligning himself with their elevated standards and maintaining a lifelong disdain for subpar scholarly work and charlatans of all kinds.
Bruce Berman’s passing leaves a void in the hearts of his family, friends, colleagues, and students. His intellectual curiosity, passion for knowledge, and dedication to the pursuit of diversity, equality and democracy will be dearly missed. The Queen’s University community and the world of political science have lost a luminary whose influence will be felt for years to come. Anyone who had the pleasure of social time with Bruce knew him to be an avid and skilled raconteur with a passion for sharing jokes and stories, preferably while also sharing a good meal.
In addition to his academic pursuits, Bruce was an active and engaged member of the Kingston community as a founding member of the Iyr Ha-Melech Reform Synagogue in Kingston. He lent his expertise to various initiatives, especially efforts to effectively represent the Jewish community with the academic and broader Kingston communities, demonstrating a commitment to the broader well-being of the country and region he called home.
Born on April 14, 1942, in Manhattan, NY, and raised in the NYC area by Jack Berman and Frances (Stern) Berman. He was predeceased by his younger sister, Harriet (Berman) Stahl and niece, Stacie Stahl. Bruce is survived by his wife Elaine (Shapiro) Berman, two children; Daniel Berman (Elin Raymond) and Erica Berman (Adam Chapnick), and four grandchildren; Sofia, Eli, Cameron and Avery, all living in Toronto, Ontario. He is also survived by his nephew Robert Stahl (Los Angeles) and many cousins of the Berman and Stern families. Adopting him as one of their own, Elaine’s extended family (Shapiros, Ginsbergs, Fogelmans et al) also mourn his loss.
A memorial service to celebrate Professor Berman’s life and contributions will be held in Kingston, details of which will be announced in the coming weeks.
May he rest in peace, and may his legacy continue to inspire those who follow in his intellectual footsteps.