Urhobo Historical Society

A Memorial Tribute


Ulf Himmelstrand,(1924-2011)

International Scholar and Academic Mentor


By Albert Imohiosen

New York City, USA

Professor Ulf Himmelstrand died peacefully in his beloved Sweden on June 8, at 11:330 pm, with his loving wife Karen at his bedside. Left to mourn him are not only his dear wife Karen, their son Jonas as well as daughters Anika and Nina with their children. He is also  mourned by personal friends he made, and many students he mentored, as well as several  academic colleagues with whom he engaged in collaborative research and publications across four continents—Africa, Asia, Europe, and the two Americas.

Born in India to Swedish Church missionary parents, where he spent much of his early childhood years, Ulf Himmestrand first earned a bachelor degree at age twenty then a doctoral degree in 1960 at Sweden’s renowned Uppsala University where his thirty-one year academic career spanning 1960 to 1991 commences as an empathic and prolific Sociology Professor. It was first interrupted by one full year (1960-61) spent in the United States as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. Another four year long interruption, from 1964 to 1967, followed which he spent establishing the new Sociology Department at Nigeria’s premier University of Ibadan, with both myself and Francis Okediji as the department’s initial sociology Lecturers joined later by Chukwuka Okonjo. Prior to that a second interruption ending during the summer of 1964, which he spent as Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences Fellow, Palo Alto in California, where we first met upon his invitation to join in the initial collaborative research design of Cross-National Comparative Social and Political Change Project.

His devotion to inspiring teaching and empathic mentoring not only in Sweden but also in Nigeria and later Kenya 1989—1991), also unwavering life-long commitment to collaborative research and publications with both already established as well as with younger academic colleagues, spanned 1989 when retired becoming hence and Uppsala University emeritus Professor. He was a visiting in Kenya from 1987 to 1991 at the University of Nairobi. The unfortunate mugging he suffered in Nairobi , from which he never fully recovered, could not diminish his empathic understanding especially of developing Countries’ nation problems, to addressed in most of collaborative research and academic as well as mass media publications.

His principal collaborative research colleagues who will doubtless miss the gently critical, informed empirically oriented , yet empathic contributions to the Cross-National Comparative Social and Political Change Project are: from India, both Rajni Kothari and Bashirudin Ahmed from the Center for the Study of Developing Societies; Hajime Ikeuchi, Joji Watanuki and Jun-Ichi Kyogoku of the University of Tokyo, also Ichiro Miyake of the University Kyoto, all three from Japan;; and from Nigeria  myself and Professor Ulf Himmelstrand; and of course the research project director Professor Sydney Verba then of Stanford University but now a tenured University Professor at Harvard, and the several other hosting scholars representing the United States.

The durable legacy of academic teaching and research both  alone or collaborating jointly not only with already well established Swedish and other European academics, but also with several younger academic colleagues in Nigeria and Kenya, to either foster or publish jointly otherwise edit alone their solicited analytic sociological findings. Two examples are his edited two volumes of: “from crisis to science”, The Sociology of Structure and Action (986), which includes a contributions from the British sociologist Arthur L. Stinchcombe and mostly Swedish sociologists. Also edited in collaboration with Kabiru Kinyanju, a NairobI University academic in Kenya, Africa Perspectives on Development: Controversies, Dilemas and Openings (1994). There are nine other major book-length sole or joint publications, aside from his numerous other academic articles and non-academic publication. These include Africa Reports on the Nigerian Crisis (1978) in collaboration with Henryka Schobowska; also his Spontaniety and Planning in Serial Development (1981), SAGE Studies in in International Sociology, aside from his many academic journal article and in non-academic sources.

His passing leaves a hard to fill void in his beloved wife Karen’s, also their children and grand children’s lives, as well as my own personal and his many friends and colleagues individual and shared memories. May his soul rest in the perpetual peace he has so well earned and richly deserves.