Sabine MacCormack, 1941-2012

July 5, 2012

A historian of "exuberant energies", equally at home in the worlds of ancient Rome and colonial Latin America, has died.

Sabine MacCormack was born in Frankfurt on 24 February 1941 and studied Classics and history at Goethe Universität Frankfurt from 1960 to 1961 and then modern history at the University of Oxford from 1961 to 1964.

After receiving a diploma in archives at the University of Liverpool, she worked as a teaching fellow at the University of Sydney from 1965 to 1967 and then for a Scottish publisher before returning to Oxford to complete a PhD on imperial art and panegyric in late antiquity between 1969 and 1974.

Following another spell in publishing as a librarian, archivist and translator for Phaidon Press, Professor MacCormack secured an academic position as assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin in 1979.

She went on to work, in both Classics and history departments, at Stanford University (1982-89) and the University of Michigan (1990-2003) before ending her career as the Reverend Theodore Hesburgh professor of arts and letters at the University of Notre Dame.

Although her first book was a Concise Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology (published under her maiden name of Oswalt in 1969), Professor MacCormack went on to reveal an altogether exceptional range of research and teaching interests, from the Roman Empire to 17th-century Peru. Few scholars could boast the breadth of knowledge that informed books from Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (1981) and The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine (1998) to Religion in the Andes: Vision and Imagination in Early Colonial Peru (1991), not to mention a final magisterial work pulling these strands together, On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain, and Peru (2007).

John Van Engen, Andrew V. Tackes professor of medieval history at Notre Dame, remembers a woman of "exuberant energies, a spirit deeply at home in ideas of all kinds", who "thrived on contact and conversation, opening her house to famous soirees with colleagues and students - books and talk and drink deep into the night - the more intense the conversation the better".

When Professor MacCormack became interested in colonial Peru, adds Professor Van Engen, "it was the language of its native peoples she was soon after, not just 'Classics in the Andes'. Beyond Spanish she took on Quechua, and on arriving at Notre Dame insisted on arrangements for teaching that ancient Peruvian language to Midwestern suburban Catholics, initially housing the instructor in her own home."

Professor MacCormack died of a heart attack on 16 June and is survived by her daughter Catherine.

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