Alexander Riasanovsky, History

Alexander Valentinovich Riasanovsky, a former professor of Russian history at Penn, died on September 4. He was 88 years old.

Dr. Riasanovsky was born in Harbin, Manchuria, to Russian parents. When he was 9 years old, Japan invaded China and his family fled to Eugene, Oregon.  After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army as a paratrooper on September 28, 1946, serving in Japan as part of the occupation force. He earned both a World War II Victory Medal and an Army of Occupation Medal, Japan. He separated from the Army with an honorable discharge in 1948.

Dr. Riasanovsky earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Oregon and was accepted as a Rhodes Scholar into St. John’s College, Oxford University, where he received a BLitt degree. He then received a PhD from Stanford University in Russian medieval history.

He married Barbara Hearst and the couple had two daughters, Katya and Nina.

Dr. Riasanovsky was a faculty member at Penn for nearly 35 years. He joined as an associate professor in 1965 and earned a Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award that same year (Almanac October 13, 1987). He became a professor of history in 1972 and then a professor of Slavic languages in 1991. He retired as a professor emeritus in 1999.

He was featured in an article in Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine on “Ten Top Profs” in Philadelphia in 1986. In the article, he was described as “a living legend [at Penn]” (Almanac December 9, 1986). He served on Faculty Senate committees including the community relations committee, the committee on international exchanges and the student affairs committee.

Dr. Riasanovsky co-authored Readings in Russian History: Volumes I-IV and published a book of his own poetry, The Family Album. He was also a talented artist in the Modigliani style.

He is survived by his wife, Janis; daughters, Nina Rowland (Skip) and Katya Riasanovsky; grandchildren, Beauregard Rowland, Bruce Neal, Alexander Riasanovsky and Alexandra Rowland; stepson, Scott Silverman; and step-grandsons, Justin Silverman and William Silverman.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to Melech Hospice House, or the Alzheimer Society, are appreciated.