Obituary — James McIntosh


James Henry McIntosh, professor emeritus of English and American culture at the University of Michigan, died of a stroke Aug. 30 at his home in Ann Arbor in the presence of his wife, Elaine K. Gazda, and daughter, Karina McIntosh.

James McIntosh
James McIntosh

Jim was born Feb. 4, 1934, in New York City, the eldest of five children in a close-knit family to Rustin McIntosh and Millicent Carey McIntosh. By temperament and abilities, he was decidedly intellectual, thoughtful and well-read. He and his siblings were musical; Jim sang and played the cello. He was a specialist in 19th-century American literature.

He wrote several rich and subtle essays on Emerson, Hawthorne and Melville and a major book, “Thoreau as Romantic Naturalist: His Shifting Stance Toward Nature.” In 1987, he edited the Norton Critical edition of “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales,” and in 2000 published his singularly original study, “Nimble Believing: Dickinson and the Unknown.”

Jim graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1951, from Harvard College magna cum laude in 1955 and served two years in the U.S. Navy. He taught for a year at the Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa.

In 1957, he was admitted to the distinguished graduate program in English and Comparative Literature at Yale University. He spent a year on a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin. From 1962-67 he taught at Tufts University and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed performing with the Peoples’ Theater and singing with a small a cappella group. He received his Ph.D. at Yale in 1966 and taught there from 1967-75.

He joined the Department of English Language and Literature at U-M as an associate professor in 1975, was promoted to the rank of professor in 1989 and named professor emeritus in 2002.

Jim placed his intellectual skills and conscientious judgment at the service of both the English department and the Program in American Culture. His involvement with the Program in American Culture, now the Department of American Culture, as one of the program’s most distinguished and longest-serving directors from 1984-91 included serving on the program’s graduate admissions committee and many hiring and tenure committees.

As a soft-spoken and gentle administrator, Jim brought to this complicated job an admirably calibrated old-fashioned gravitas combined with a readiness for undogmatic observations, an enormous intellectual range, and subtle artistic judgment. His humanistic political convictions enabled him to prepare the ground for the now nationally recognized Program in Latina/o Studies and to pioneer comparative courses in North and South American Literatures.

He was a valued mentor to all who brought him their questions and manuscripts. In retirement he continued to read voraciously in several languages and developed a loyal following for the adult education courses he taught on poetry.

His first marriage to Ingrid Hernandez ended in amicable separation and divorce. His marriage to Elaine Gazda in 1984 lasted happily for 37 years until his death. In 1988, they adopted an infant daughter, Karina, in Warsaw, Poland. Jim was a devoted and beloved husband and father, and he will be greatly missed.

There will be a memorial service at the Union Church in Tyringham, Massachusetts, at 2 p.m. Oct. 16. Gifts in Jim’s memory may be made to the American Friends Service Committee; the Scattergood School in West Branch, Iowa; Doctors Without Borders; The Shelter Association of Ann Arbor; and — at the University of Michigan — the Institute for the Humanities, the New England Literature Program, and the Department of American Culture Program in Latina/o Studies.

— Submitted on behalf of the family by the departments of American Culture and English Language and Literature


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