Remembering Al Senn


Alfred Erich Senn (April 12, 1932-March 8, 2016) began teaching in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961. During the following decades, Professor Senn rose to prominence as a scholar of Lithuanian and Russian history. David McDonald, the Alice D. Mortenson/Petrovich Distinguished Chair in Russian History at UW-Madison was for many years Senn’s colleague in the Department of History. McDonald recalls of Senn, “He was a prolific and versatile historian, whose subjects ranged widely in a profession that came increasingly to value narrow specialization during his career.” Senn’s prolific body of work includes topics as diverse as Lithuanian folklore, Swiss-Soviet diplomatic relations, the Olympics, the Soviet annexation of Lithuania, and a biography of Lithuanian artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. Following the passing of Alfred Senn on March 8, 2016, several members of the CREECA community who knew Professor Senn wanted to share their thoughts about their colleague, teacher, and friend. We have compiled some of these thoughts here.

I am saddened to hear of the passing of our dear colleague and friend Alfred Senn. I valued him immensely as a scholar and as a human being. I had the pleasure of getting to know him well when the two of us served for several years on the IREX selection committee. He also contributed an article on the Modern Olympics in the Modern Greek Studies Yearbook published at Minnesota under my editorship; and, as my guest, he gave a splendid lecture at the University of Minnesota in connection with a conference on Art and Culture in Nineteenth Century Russia. I learned much from Al, and I always enjoyed being with him. His generous laughter was infectious to say the least.

May Alfred Senn rest in peace, and may his memory be eternal.

Theofanis G. Stavrou
Professor, Department of History
University of Minnesota

My wife Angela Mischke Pienkos and I were graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and both of us earned our certificate from the Russian Area Studies Committee in the mid 1960s.

We knew and respected Prof. Senn, who was one of the members of that outstanding committee, along with such luminaries as John Armstrong (political science), David Granick (economics), Michael B. Petrovich (history), J.T. Shaw (Slavic languages), Robert Taafe (geography), just to name a few who served.

It was an extraordinary interdisciplinary program, the forerunner of CREECA. It also served as a template when my colleagues in History, Slavic Languages, and Geography and I organized our own Russian and East European Studies Committee and Certificate program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1970.

Donald Pienkos
Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

I knew Prof. Senn as a young graduate student from Eastern Europe. He was always very supportive of my studies – I was a Ph.D. student in political science with a minor concentration in history. I remember him as a great supporter of Slavic and East European studies and area studies more generally. He had a good sense of humor and a welcoming spirit. I remember him fondly as one of the prominent “gurus” in the discipline with a strong presence in the Department of History.

Tomasz Inglot
Director, International Relations Program
Professor, Department of Government
Minnesota State University

“Above all,” recalls David McDonald, “Alfred Erich Senn’s dedication to his calling, his sense of humor and its basis in the skepticism that made him such a good judge of evidence, equipped him surprisingly well for the changes that overtook both his professional environment and the part of Europe he studied. Trained to understand the polarized and ideological world of the Cold War, he chronicled both its breakdown and the emergence of a new order of things. A product of a 1950s academy that looks in retrospect placid and complacent, he adapted to the successive changes and turbulence that have continued to reshape it in the ensuing years. Throughout, he found inspiration—and sheer fun—in pursuing his own curiosities and interests. Whatever the obstacles or occasional indifference he encountered, he made his own path and greatly enjoyed doing so; his readers, students, friends, and colleagues have reaped the rich rewards of his having done so.”