In Memoriam: Jere Bacharach

Submitted by Nick Grall on

The Department of History mourns deeply the passing of Jere Bacharach, who died on April 9, 2023, after a severe illness.

Jere left a tremendous legacy at the University of Washington, as Emerita Associate Director of the Middle East Center Felicia Hecker's tribute below attests. He was a chair in the Department of History as well as a director of the Jackson School of International Studies. These are but a few of the offices he held.

He was a human being, colleague, scholar, and teacher of tremendous integrity, which he combined with seemingly limitless enthusiasm and boundless energy. Jere was a mensch. Those of us who were privileged to know him are better people for it.

May his memory be for a blessing. 

Jere L. Bacharach, Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Stanley D. Golub Professor Emeritus of International Studies, scholar of the medieval Middle East, inspiring teacher, colleague, friend, and mentor to many, died April 9, 2023 at the age of 84.

Jere Bacharach received his B.A. from Trinity College (CT), his M.A. from Harvard University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. His lifelong dedication to Middle East and Islamic history began in the fall of 1958 when he did his junior year abroad at Edinburgh University. There he took his first course on Islamic history, which proved to be a pivotal moment in his life and one that he later reflected on saying, “I became so turned on by the subject that I decided to make Islamic history a life’s pursuit and I am pleased I did.”

Jere’s passion for the field would carry through a remarkably productive fifty-five-year career of scholarly work and administrative leadership at the University of Washington. Jere was hired in 1968 by then chair of the Department of History, the eminent scholar of Southeast European history, Peter Sugar*. From the beginning of his career, Jere was filled with enthusiasm for the field, his research, his colleagues and his students. The incandescent enthusiasm and warm encouragement he offered so generously to all was a unique quality that propelled both his own success as a scholar and administrator and the success of many others as well.

Although Jere’s interest and expertise in the Middle East spanned a wide range from Islamic art and architecture to medieval archaeology of Cairo, he was probably best known for his research on numismatics of the Arab world---a subject he was writing about and publishing on well into his retirement. From 1966 to 2007 Jere published almost forty books, articles, and catalogues on the subject of coinage and numismatics in the Islamic world. His work in numismatics opened new avenues for understanding the politics and society of medieval Egypt and beyond. Recognizing his contributions, Oxford University named Jere the Samir Shama Fellow in Islamic Numismatics and Epigraphy in 2004.

Jere’s commitment to the field of Middle East studies and to strengthening the professional organizations that underpinned research and scholarship he cared about was unequaled. From 1978 to 1992 he served as the editor of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Bulletin, and was elected president of MESA serving from 1999-2000. He also was elected president of the Middle East Medievalist (1997-2000, and 2003-6), and served on the board of directors of American Research Center in Egypt and American Numismatics Society to name just a few. The remarkable extent of Jere’s service to so many organizations was recognized by MESA in 2004 when the organization renamed its service award in honor commending “his extraordinary service to MESA, many of her sister societies, and the field overall.”

Of all his talents, Jere perhaps most enjoyed his role as a teacher and mentor. A consummate speaker, Jere could easily hold the attention of undergraduates in large survey classes, advanced graduate students in small seminars, or even local business people at downtown lunches. He relished teaching and mentoring, which came naturally to him though he always credited his thesis advisor at Trinity College, Philip Kittler, whom he said was, “exceptional in demonstrating how to work with students as individuals.” Jere’s own engaging style as a teacher was fortified by the very solid academic training he received from his own mentors: W. Montgomery Watt, author of numerous books on the Prophet Muhammad and early Islam and his Ph.D. supervisor, Middle East historian, and lifelong friend Andrew S. Ehrenkreutz.

Beyond research and teaching, Jere excelled as an administrator in higher education. His generous personality and invariably positive outlook always brought people together, even when that seemed impossible. During his years at the University of Washington, he served in many leadership roles including: the director of the Jackson School’s Middle East Center, 1982-1995; chair of the Department of History, 1987-92; founder and chair of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 1992-2000; and director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, 1995-2001. He established the Jere L. Bacharach Endowed Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Jere L. Bacharach Fund in the Middle East Center.

Jere retired from the University of Washington in 2004 as the Stanley D. Golub Professor Emeritus of International Studies and Professor Emeritus, Department of History. Jere’s legacy continues through his scholarship and through the many students, staff, faculty and colleagues whom he so generously encouraged, guided, and promoted over his long career at the University of Washington.

* Jere enjoyed telling the story of how he was hired: He was a newly minted, unemployed Ph.D. sitting in a delicatessen near the University of Michigan campus contemplating his future, when he struck up a conversation with the person at the next table, who happened to be Peter Sugar, in town to give a lecture. When Sugar discovered Jere was a young Middle East historian looking for a job, he invited him to interview for a position in the History Department at UW, which led immediately to Jere’s first, and lifelong, academic appointment.

We invite you to share your remembrances of Jere, which we will post below.

Jere was my undergraduate mentor. He did what mentors are supposed to do – he listened, he told the truth, even it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and he pointed me in the right direction. I have so many fond memories of him as I went from an undergraduate Middle East History Major, to a graduate student, to finally his junior colleagues in our shared field. He was a man of great patience and balance. Whenever I would see him at conference, in Egypt, in Europe, or back home in Seattle, I was so excited to sit with him and share my news– professional and personal. I will miss him and he will be missed.
Keith David Watenpaugh
Davis, California

Jere was an extraordinary friend and colleague. Before I was appointed to my present post here in Qatar, Jere was of great support to me and mentored me as a mid-career scholar transitioning to a new academic post. Thank you, Jere. R.I.P.
Josef Meri
Doha, Qatar

Jere was in his first year as Chair of the History Department (1987-88) when he hired two new medieval historians. One of them was me; the other was (and still is) my wife Robin. We were the first married couple the Department had ever hired. Robin was 7 months pregnant at the time we interviewed in Washington, DC at the AHA convention, and could not travel after mid-January. So we were hired, sight unseen by most of the department, from the AHA Convention interviews, without a campus visit.

Our first sense that UW History was a Department we really wanted to join was at the Convention itself. Robin and I had already interviewed separately with the entire committee, but we now had a follow-up interview, together, on the following day. As we were standing in the lobby, waiting for Dan Waugh, the hiring committee chair, to arrive, up bustled Jere, with a big smile, whose first suggestion to us was a practical joke we should play on Dan when he arrived. "He'll love it!", promised Jere, who was utterly irrepressible then and throughout all the years we knew him. We were not sure about this advice, and chose not to follow it. But the sense of fun; the endless optimism; and the genuine warmth were clear, even if the advice was perhaps a little risky.

I certainly had not expected to follow Jere's move into administration. I don't suppose anyone goes to graduate school with plans to become chair of a department, much less a dean. But throughout my subsequent administrative career, Jere was a role model for me. His confident optimism and boundless energy were the epitome of what a chair (and a dean) could and should be. I cannot claim always to have managed to emulate those qualities. And no doubt Jere must sometimes have had his doubts, although he never (well, almost never) showed them to me. Nor did I ever have his love of travel ("Send me a ticket, and I'll go anywhere!" was one of his mantras...) or his addiction to the telephone. So certainly I was never Jere. But he was a model and a mentor nevertheless, and also of course a friend, whose generosity and good cheer all of us will sorely miss. We were lucky to have him among us, and he left our department and this university a better place than it was when he found it. And that is an aspiratlon we can all share as we remember and celebrate Jere Bacharach.
Bob Stacey
Seattle, Washington

Jere Bacharach, whose death we mourn, was a fine scholar and a great teacher. He was also for many years the heart and soul of the History community, not only by his leadership but by the exuberance and conviviality that he brought to all those he worked with and taught. His passing takes a light out of our world. My own memories of Jere go back five decades but they were best expressed, I believe, when I spoke at the occasion of his retirement almost twenty years ago. I began by saying that the gathering billed as his retirement party was surely being held under false pretenses. For just about the last adjective I have ever associated with Jere is that he is a retiring person. Many other memories, sounds, and images come vividly to mind—Bacharach here, the voice springing out of the telephone late at night; hello, hello, hello, erupting into one’s office at odd hours of the day; the Energizer bunny as the ever cheerful but far from distant drummer; the moving shirtfront glazing one’s eyeballs with neckties of a hue and design long since excluded from museums of Modern Art. But retiring—no.

So, whatever its false billing, its violation of the Trade Descriptions Act, I don’t take this assemblage today to be a sad occasion. Rather it’s an occasion to realize what we have—and, we have every reason to hope, will continue to have—amongst us. It offers us a moment of reflection and of celebration in the continuation of Jere (and Barbara) by other means. And it’s one when Jere, just for once and wholly out of character, is relatively immobilized, staked out for friendly inspection. So what do we see, in looking, and looking back? That’s not very easy, for even when at rest, Jere contains multitudes, with a bewildering array of sides and facets.

Most faculty in their time don’t play many parts. But Jere’s accomplishments are astonishingly legion. Scholar, teacher, public lecturer, chair, director of the Jackson School, benefactor to the University, officer and then president of at least three national organizations, series editor, lecturer at Oxford, director of Cairo’s American Research Center at Cairo, the list goes on, and that’s just the public Jere.

My own particular view, from my spot on the perimeter of this great circle of interest and accomplishment, derives from having Jere as a friend and colleague in the History department for just over thirty years. We have sat through many meetings, broken much bread, read many of each other’s writings and those of our colleagues, together. What insights would I draw from this, as to what makes Jere tick, what energizes the energizer, what has enabled him to do all that he has done? Here, I do claim one small area of unique expertise and insight. For I am the only person in this crowded room who can claim to have followed Jere as chair of a department.

At the time this seemed no small task to attempt. Jere had been an enormously successful chair, drawing the department together, engineering a string of strong hirings (who had then just banded together in a lunch to commemorate his chairmanship), and greatly expanding the department’s ties to (and support from) the university community.
Yet for all that I had worked with him over several years, I was still curious as to what secrets for this success I would find once I entered his office: some adages from the Koran or Franklin’s Autobiography, maybe, pasted behind the closet door; possibly a telephone kiosk into which he stepped occasionally, or perhaps some palantir, a crystal sphere into which he gazed and communed with past elders of the department. How ran the empire? But the reality I found was ultimately more illuminating of Jere himself, for it proved to be an empire spun of words and not of paper—Jere, into whose office his assistant Marge Healey had never let a paper go without making a copy of it first, had in fact an awesome capacity for dispensing with paper or, even better, making it disappear. Marge and Susanne Young have reminded me of the time when the Dean’s office refused to believe that when he had actually signed a letter that his signature was the real one. So my first thought was that Jere had been pioneering that dream of nerds, the advent of a paperless society.

But further reflection sent me, as an historian, forwards into the past rather than backwards into the future, with what became a different insight into the modus operandi Bacharachii. It reaches back, it might be said, to what he does, to his longtime engagement with what one might call the hard currency of both numismatics and the workings of Near Eastern societies. For these embody what in Jere’s hands have proved singularly effective and valuable for us in this university, his orchestration of both the discussions and the inducements, the honeyed words and hard gold coinage that on the one hand sells a lot of rugs or on the other, if I remember my T.E. Lawrence correctly, brought the Saudi dynasty out of the desert into power. Jere excels in shaping the discussion, the consensus, and the deployment of resources that have proved time and again to be worth more than the paper they’re not written on.

And there has been a much larger value for us here, for Jere has always shaped what is possible towards achieving what is worthwhile for institutions and communities beyond himself. Many academics achieve much for themselves and for the larger world of scholarship to which they contribute. It is rare to find someone who has given so much to those immediately around him, by bringing out their best, by fostering ties and understanding across the university, and by upholding the highest standards for those he teaches and those with whom he works. He is truly someone who has given a lifetime to nurturing our academic community. It requires a skill and humor that has been likened to that required to herding cats; I would prefer to point to Jere’s renowned and beloved capacity to engage and work with children—of all ages.

I would close with two stories that I think embody some of these skills of communication and commitment, even though they took place off campus and in Jere’s other natural habitat, the middle East. Carol and I had the good fortune to follow in the footsteps of other colleagues here and spend time with Jere and Barb in Cairo. It was a wonderful trip, given meaning by their guidance. Two images linger. The first, more frivolous perhaps, is of Jere threatening the imminent destruction of some priceless Egyptian antiquities housed in the gallery under the Cairo museum by causing several guards to throw themselves around with laughter when he told them—in Arabic—that he thought he detected by their accents that they were Japanese. He knew how to touch their understandings. The second is of the time when we were in the central Cairo market, dotted with monuments and gateways dating back to medieval times, bearing inscriptions in the beautiful antique calligraphy. Jere paused to point out how they could be read. First one Egyptian passer by joined in and then a stall-keeper, then another and another. A crowd gathered in which tourists took a back seat. Jere patiently guided his hearers through the convolutions of the inscriptions. As he approached the last one, laughter erupted, cheers, fists pumping, high fivings. Jere had gathered a class, he was explaining things to people strangers to their own land. It was the kind of value-added moment that we all want to have, as teachers, and as human beings. Jere has given us many of those back in Seattle.

As teacher, colleague, paterfamilias, nurturer of our community, weaving the ties that bind along with those that outrage the eye. And, on behalf of you here today, I thank him and salute him for what he has given us, with admiration and affection, and, now with loving memory.
Richard Johnson
Seattle, Washington