Historian Charles Delzell has died

Charles F. Delzell (Vanderbilt University)

Charles F. Delzell, one of the leading experts on modern Italian political history and a retired Vanderbilt University professor, died March 28 in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 91.

Delzell was born in Klamath Falls, Ore., and shared his father’s keen interest in history and politics. One of Delzell’s fondest memories was shaking hands at age 12 with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was campaigning for president in Portland, Ore.

Delzell graduated from Oregon University with a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned his master’s in history and political science at Stanford University before joining a convoy bound for Casablanca as a Criminal Investigation Division agent of the U.S. Army assigned to French North Africa. According to a 1990 profile written of Delzell in the Vanderbilt Register, his interest in Italian affairs intensified with visits to Bologna, Milan and Rome.

After the war ended, Delzell became acquainted with several anti-Fascist resisters through his work for Stanford’s Hoover War Library. It sent him as an overseas representative to the Mediterranean to collect materials on the Fascist era, the anti-Fascist resistance and postwar reconstruction in Italy. He even traveled to Rome with former President Herbert Hoover.

Delzell enrolled in Stanford’s doctoral program in 1947. His research on the Italian Resistance deepened while he was in Naples studying at the Benedetto Croce Institute for Historical Studies. He earned his doctorate in 1951 and began teaching at Vanderbilt in 1952.

He received much critical praise as well as prestigious book awards for Mussolini’s Enemies: The Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance, published in 1961 by Princeton University Press and considered one of the seminal works on anti-Fascist organizations in Italy.

“Delzell’s book was a major piece of scholarship that established him as an internationally recognized scholar in his field,” said Michael D. Bess, the Chancellor’s Professor of History and professor of European Studies.

Delzell was named to the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professorship in 1970. He served as a resident scholar at the American Academy in Rome the summer of 1973 and represented Vanderbilt as a member of its Advisory Council from 1983 to 1989.

The former chair of the Department of History received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Distinguished Service to Vanderbilt in 1985.

He became professor of history, emeritus, in 1989. That was about the same time that Bess was hired at Vanderbilt. “It was daunting to think that I was supposed to replace such an eminent scholar,” Bess said. “However, he was incredibly kind and welcoming to me. It really what was you dream of happening when you are a young faculty member who is just starting your career.” Bess noted that he modeled his first course syllabus after Delzell’s syllabi and still uses certain aspects of what Delzell taught him in course preparation.

In 1990 Delzell was honored by his alma mater with the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Alumni Achievement Award.

Delzell taught during the early years of Vanderbilt’s Retirement Learning Program. In 1998 he moved to Santa Fe, N.M., with his wife, Eugenia (Gena) Robertson Delzell. She survives him as do his three children. They are William Robertson Delzell of Albuquerque, N.M., Charles Neal (Chip) Delzell of Baton Rouge, La., and Pauline Delzell Severy of Santa Fe, N.M.

Memorial gifts can be sent to Vista Care Hospice, ATTN: Liz Graham, 1911 5th St., Suite 100, Santa Fe, N.M. 87505.