Richard A. Macksey, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature, was a legend in his own fields of critical theory, comparative literature, and film studies and a leader in the humanities overall.
An award-winning teacher, Macksey co-founded the Johns Hopkins Humanities Center in 1966 as a meeting ground and incubator for problems, ideas, and discussions across disciplines. He read and wrote in six languages, and maintained a celebrated library of more than 70,000 books and manuscripts in his home. This collection covers every genre in just about every language, and includes rare books, first editions, and association copies.
After beginning his undergraduate studies at Princeton, he transferred to Hopkins and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 and master’s degree in 1954, both in Writing Seminars. He went on to earn a doctorate in comparative literature from Hopkins in 1957, and joined the Hopkins faculty in 1958. He served as Humanities Center director from 1970 until 1982 and was a professor on its faculty until his retirement in 2010. He also held joint appointments in Writing Seminars and in the School of Medicine’s History of Medicine department.
Macksey, who penned or edited dozens of volumes of scholarly works, fiction, poetry, and translation, is renowned as one of the conveners of the groundbreaking international symposium called “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” held at Hopkins in 1966. It was the first time that many leading figures of European structuralist criticism—including Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, and Paul de Man—presented their ideas to the American academic community, placing Hopkins at the center of intellectual conversation.
Macksey received Hopkins’ George E. Owen Teaching Award in 1992, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999, and the Hopkins Heritage Award in 2010. In 1999, the Richard A. Macksey Professorship for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities was established, endowed by Edward T. Dangel III ’64 and his wife, Bonni Widdoes. Macksey was the longtime comparative literature editor of Modern Language Notes published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and a Richard A. Macksey Graduate Student Fellowship helped run the Honors Program in the Humanities for many years.
He passed away on July 22, 2019 at the age of 87. Read his obituary on the Hub.