URBANA — Walter L. Arnstein, 89, died peacefully at home Sunday (Oct. 6, 2019) from complications due to multiple myeloma and brain cancers. His wife and daughter were at his side.
Dr. Arnstein became fondly known to decades of U of I history students as a founder and frequent host of the British History Association (BHA). Inspiration for this unique and popular off-campus organization came partly from a less ambitious organization at the University of Chicago and partly from the movie "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939), in which a teacher grows to become beloved by generations of students. BHA meetings included student-prepared meals, visiting lecturers, and in the summer, dignified games of volleyball. In retirement, Dr. Arnstein and his wife continued to host numerous reunions of BHA alumni from all over the United States, along with their growing families.
Walter Arnstein was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on May 14, 1930. His family emigrated to the United States in 1939, and they became American citizens in 1944, at which time he chose his middle name of Leonard, in honor of composer Leonard Bernstein. He received his B.S.S. degree at the City College of New York (1951), magna cum laude, his M.A. at Columbia University (1954) and — after a Fulbright year at the University of London — his Ph.D. in history at Northwestern University (1961). Between 1951 and 1953, he served in the U.S. Army, going to Korea as an assistant battalion supply sergeant in an anti-aircraft battalion. In 1952, he had married Charlotte Sutphen, an Ohioan, with whom he remained married for 67 years.
Dr. Arnstein was a member of the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1968 to 1998, and he retired with the titles of Professor of History Emeritus and Jubilee Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Emeritus. He won numerous awards for his teaching, and he also served as department chair and director of Graduate Studies. He supervised 25 successfully defended Ph.D. dissertations in British history and taught British history at every level from the introductory survey to the doctoral seminar.
Over the course of his career, he also taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and Roosevelt University (10 years), where he rose to be dean of the Graduate Division. He held visiting appointments as Fellow at both Cambridge University and University of Edinburgh, and he was also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He served on the editorial boards of The Historian, Albion and Victorian Studies, the journal of the Midwest Victorian Studies Association, which in 1990 established an annual graduate student prize in his honor (The Arnstein Prize). He was one of the first presidents of the North American Conference on British Studies.
Dr. Arnstein was the author of eight books, including "Britain Yesterday and Today: 1830 to the Present," a book that for over four decades introduced more American and Canadian college students to modern British history than any other textbook. Other books included "The Bradlaugh Case" (1965), "Protestant Versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England" (1982) and "Queen Victoria" (2003). He was the author of more than 45 journal articles and 170 book reviews. In 1973, he competed successfully for five days on the TV show "Jeopardy!"
He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; daughter, Sylvia; son, Peter (Judy Dworkin); sister, Laura Altschuler; two grandchildren, Katharine and Julianne (Ryan Galligan); and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins of whom he was very fond.
Friends may greet the family at Owens Funeral Home, 101 N. Elm St., Champaign, from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. The memorial service will begin at 3 p.m. at the funeral home. A musical memorial will take place later at Clark-Lindsey Village on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 2:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Frances Nelson Clinic or The Champaign County Humane Society.
The family would like to express their appreciation to Transitions Hospice and all the caregivers who helped to make Dr. Arnstein’s passing a peaceful one.