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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Former professor dies of stroke at 86

University Professor James Rosenau, a renowned scholar in politics and international affairs who spent a third of his 60-year teaching career at GW, died of a stroke Friday at the age of 86.

Rosenau struggled with dementia for several years, his daughter, Margaret Rosenau, said. He was appointed a University Professor in 2010 after teaching a final class the year before. He was one of only 10 faculty members who currently hold the title – the highest and most prestigious rank for GW faculty, given to individuals whose records excel above and beyond the conventional norms of scholarship.

“Jim was widely regarded as one of the most influential, innovative and productive scholars of his generation,” Elliott School of International Affairs Dean Michael Brown said. “His legacy at GW and the academic world, more broadly, is enormous. He will be missed.”

The Princeton University doctorate recipient’s name is inked in over 40 books as an author or editor. He arrived at GW in 1982.

A renowned and respected researcher and academic, Rosenau studied how domestic and foreign affairs collide, as well as the dynamics of change and turbulence in world politics.

As a cryptographer for the U.S. during World War II, Rosenau decoded messages for spies working against the Germans. He attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and later earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Rosenau began working with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to edit the first volume of President Franklin Roosevelt’s letters, a store of notes, drafts and other documents related to the 32nd president’s time in the Oval Office.

He always recounted working with Eleanor Roosevelt, living in a cabin near her home, between the late 1940s and early 1950s, Margaret Rosenau said. Shortly after he arrived to work on the letters, a blizzard cloaked the area and he saw a woman trudging through the thick, white snow. It was Eleanor Roosevelt, approaching to check how he fared in the harsh weather.

David Earnest, a political science professor at Old Dominion University who served as Rosenau’s research assistant from 1999 to 2004 while earning his doctorate at GW, said he was an incredible mentor.

“Jim constantly reminded me that discovery and learning is a shared enterprise, not a lecture. He knew that his students made him a better scholar, just as he did to his students,” Earnest said. “Jim was my teacher, mentor and friend. I’ll miss him, and the entire GW community is poorer with this loss.”

Rosenau began each class with an exercise called “what is this an instance of,” Earnest said, calling on students to read headlines from The New York Times and asking which classroom lessons they evoked.

“He was endlessly curious and he was always demanding other people to question their assumptions of everything,” Margaret Rosenau said. “He was in love with teaching and in love with the academic world.”

Rosenau’s wife, Hongying Wang, their two children Sam and Patrick, his daughter Margaret and granddaughter Nicole survive him.

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