The Center for Chinese Studies mourns the passing of W. Rhoads Murphey III, Professor Emeritus of the U-M Department of History, and his wife Eleanor A. Murphey shortly before Christmas at their residence at a retirement community in Ann Arbor. They will be missed.
Rhoads served during the war with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China, and completed his Ph.D. in Far Eastern History and Geography at Harvard in 1950. He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1964. He published extensively on China, India and Asia, and his book Shanghai: Key to Modern China (1953) is considered to be a pioneering work on urbanism. He continued publishing in retirement, including widely used textbooks, A History of Asia, now in its sixth edition, and East Asia: A New History, now in its fifth edition. At Michigan, he was the Director of the Center for Chinese Studies from 1969-1971, Associate Director from 1973-75, and also served as the Director of the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies. He has been Editor of the Journal of Asian Studies, and has served as the Executive Secretary, Vice President and President of the Association for Asian Studies.
As part of our center’s memorial to him, we offer a touching blog post from one of his former teaching assistants. Joyce Madancy was a U-M doctoral student in history at the time, and is now Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Union College:
I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Rhoads Murphey. This is not a full obituary, but a more personal tribute. I TA'd for Rhoads at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s and found him a most congenial and generous mentor. He was, for lack of a better description, quite the character, as he zoomed along the streets and sidewalks of Ann Arbor on his ancient black bicycle, always smiling and always ready to chat. Like Kristen [Stapleton], I also have a favorite memory of Rhoads from those days. I was feeling overwhelmed by the task of pulling together my dissertation and I asked him, a man famous for textbooks and other publications that pulled together so many disparate ideas from so many cultures into a coherent narrative, how on earth he managed to be so organized. He laughed heartily, threw his arm around my shoulder and escorted me to his office, flung open the door to reveal an interior cluttered beyond belief and featuring the manual typewriter he used for all of his manuscripts, and said, "organization is highly overrated!!" He will be missed.
Professor of History and East Asian Studies