Professor Lionel Gossman: In Memoriam

In Memoriam Jan 19, 2021

By Dr Alessandra Tosi, Managing Director and co-Founder of OBP

I never met Lionel in person, but I considered him a friend from the very start. We began corresponding over ten years ago when I, an academic in the throes of establishing an independent Open Access publishing initiative with no funding and from a borrowed desk, contacted Lionel to ask whether we could republish one of his well-known books on eighteenth-century French culture. At the time I was trying to kick-start our press by convincing a number of well-known scholars to allow us to reissue their work in free-to-read digital format, thus shattering the usual price and geographical barriers to knowledge. Lionel, with his trademark generosity and intellectual courage, offered this unknown academic, representing a press which hadn’t yet produced a single book, not one but two of his brand-new scholarly works. The first, Brownshirt Princess: A Study of the 'Nazi Conscience' was published in April 2009 as our first original monograph, followed closely by The Red Countess: Select Autobiographical and Fictional Writing of Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1883-1951), to which Lionel added new material for a revised edition in 2018.

It soon came out that Lionel was himself an early supporter of Open Access, having perceived how the digital age could finally free knowledge for all and bring academia down from its ivory tower. It emerged in our first email exchange that Lionel himself had seriously considered setting up a publishing venue for Open Access academic works when OA was still a ‘fringe’ concept, especially in the humanities.

2009 thus marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration, with two more books by Lionel coming out in 2013 – The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler, and On History, a collaborative translation of Jules Michelet – and, in 2015, Thomas Annan of Glasgow: Pioneer of the Documentary Photograph. Together with the earlier two books, they have been accessed over 110,000 times worldwide.

More than anything, however, that first exchange sparked a warm friendship. Lionel’s kind-hearted messages, full of wit, modesty and, above all, an intellectual enthusiasm and a truly unique openness of mind, represented a steady source of encouragement and a much-needed injection of optimism over the years. I’ll miss him more than I can say.

Professor Lionel Gossman, M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures (Emeritus) at Princeton University, died 11 January 2021. A memorial page for Professor Gossman, set up by Princeton University, is available to view here.

Alessandra Tosi

Dr Alessandra Tosi is a co-founder and the Managing Director of OBP. Alessandra is a specialist in nineteenth-century Russian fiction, reception and gender studies.