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January 27, 2021

George Spencer

George Spencer, Ph.D., former chair and director of graduate studies of Department of History, died on Jan. 19.

After earning his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, he began his long tenure at NIU in the history department. While he was trained extensively in east and Southeast Asian history, he made his specialty the pre-modern history of South Asia, especially southern India. During his 37-year tenure in the department, he taught a wide variety of courses, including surveys of the early and modern histories of Asia, United States history to 1865, as well as a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on the Indian subcontinent and Japan.

“George Spencer was a warm and supportive colleague who made new colleagues feel welcome, took interest in their work and was eager to help,” recalled colleague Taylor Atkins, CLAS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs and Distinguished Teaching Professor of History. “He was a storehouse of historical and institutional knowledge and unfailingly dedicated to the growth and strength of the NIU History department. He and his wife, Professor Emerita Elaine Spencer, were voracious travelers who brought their experiences into their classrooms.”

After serving as the History Department’s Director of Graduate Studies, he assumed the role of department chair in 1990, a position he held for five years before returning to full-time teaching and research. He reprised his role of department chair in 1999 and served until 2003. Spencer retired in January 2004, but stayed connected to NIU by guest lecturing and giving presentations for NIU’s Lifelong Learning Institute.

For 55 years, Spencer taught, researched and traveled with his wife, Elaine, by his side. From the early days at Berkeley, she accompanied him to DeKalb and into the Department of History, where she taught German and Modern European History courses. She succeeded him as department chair in 1995 and retired in 2004. After their retirement, they traveled extensively and shared a passion for the Pacific Northwest.

To view the obituary or to leave an online condolence, go to .

Memorial contributions may be made to the NIU History Department by contacting the NIU Foundation. Gifts can be made online, by calling 1-877-GIV-2-NIU, or by contacting Ray Jackson , executive director, college-based advancement.