The Graduate Center Mourns the Loss of Retired Professor David Greetham

The Graduate Center community mourns the loss of our retired Distinguished Professor David Greetham (English), who died on March 24th following a long illness. He was 78 years old. A member of the faculty in the Ph.D. Program in English from 1975 to his retirement in 2014, Greetham was also an alumnus of the program (Ph.D. ’74, English). From 1967 to his appointment to The Graduate Center, he was a member of the English faculty at Queensborough Community College. His undergraduate degree was earned at the University of Oxford in 1963. 

Greetham is remembered with immense fondness, admiration, and respect by his colleagues and former students, and the impact of his scholarship resonates far beyond the walls of The Graduate Center. He authored many books and articles foundational to the field of textual studies including Textual Scholarship: An Introduction (1992); Scholarly Editing: A Guide to Research (1995); The Margins of the Text: Editorial Theory and Literary Criticism (1997); Textual Transgressions: Essays Toward the Construction of a Biobibliography (1998); Theories of the Text (1999); and The Pleasures of Contamination (2010). He was also one of the founders of the Society for Textual Scholarship and served as its president from 1999 to 2001. For many years co-editor of TEXT: An Interdisciplinary Annual of Textual Studies, both his commitments to and impact on the vibrancy of textual studies, and particularly in its overlap with interactive technologies and digital humanities, cannot be overstated. A special issue of Textual Cultures (2014) focused on the significance and impact of Greetham’s work as a scholar, mentor, and teacher captures a sense of both the magnitude of his intellect and the distinctively inspiring quality of that work.

Greetham trained as a medievalist, and one of his first significant publications was a substantial contribution to a massive edition of John Trevisa’s On the Properties of Things (1975). At The Graduate Center, he taught classes that reflected this training as well as his expertise in bibliography and editing. He was an innovative teacher as much as scholar, who regularly used multimedia platforms and brought infectious enthusiasm to seemingly dry topics.

Former students describe his classes as the highlights of their time at The Graduate Center, and unfailingly mention his humor and generosity. He is also known to have offered unflagging support for students both in and outside of the classroom, in their scholarly development and in their social activism. He served as executive officer of the Ph.D. Program in English and as a chair of the Graduate Council’s Curriculum Committee with great care, intelligence, and wit. 

University Professor of English and former Graduate Center President William Kelly summarizes: “His steadfast commitment to the mission of The Graduate Center and to the well-being of its students and faculty was absolute, a pole star in his professional life.”

Greetham’s thoroughgoing erudition, graciousness, and kindness, as well as his love and deep knowledge of music, robust comradery, sharp political acumen, and joyfully theatrical style, made his presence at The Graduate Center truly remarkable. As Distinguished Professor John Brenkman put it, “His urbanity and erudition were immediately striking. At once warm and intellectually rigorous, he spoke — especially to groups — with a slight theatricality that conveyed his joy as well as his authenticity in discussing all manner of issues.” He actively supported the Lost & Found project, and served on the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Certificate Program in Medieval Studies

Current English Program Executive Officer Kandice Chuh notes, “We are immensely saddened by David’s death because we were immensely fortunate to have had him in our midst. He was a tremendous scholar, teacher, colleague and, for many, true friend.” The Ph.D. Program in English will hold a celebration of Professor Greetham’s life and work in the coming academic year.

Submitted on: MAR 31, 2020

Category: Critical Diversities and the Academy: Thought and Practice, Faculty, General GC News