Mourning the Loss and Celebrating the Life of Professor Emeritus Gerhard Joseph

The Graduate Center community is deeply saddened by the recent passing of Professor Emeritus Gerhard Joseph (GC/Lehman, English), who died on January 25. Here we share a tribute from the Ph.D. Program in English.
The Ph.D. Program in English celebrates the life and mourns the loss of Professor Gerhard Joseph, who died on January 25, 2021. Professor Joseph was named professor emeritus of the Ph.D. Program in English upon his retirement in 2015. Also a member of the faculty of Lehman College, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Famous for his vibrant and expansive intellectual interests, Professor Joseph focused his research in Victorian poetry, although he later expanded to cognitive science theory. He was the author of Tennyson and the Text: The Weaver’s Shuttle (1992), and essays appearing in such a wide range of venues as Critical Essays on Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’PMLA, and the Cardoza Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, along with his famous ‘phantom essays’ — sketches of essays yet to be written. Professor Joseph was an early founding member of Dickens Universe, where he remained a key figure, a co-founder, with Professor Anne Humphreys, of the annual CUNY Victorian Conference and Victorianist reading group, and was active in The Graduate Center communities well beyond retirement.
Indeed, while he is remembered with great admiration and affection by scores of former students and advisees for his bountiful generosity, intellectual acumen, and capacious and infectious humor, we also remember and appreciate Professor Joseph’s ongoing and enthusiastic presence in program events. With his perpetual intellectual curiosity, Professor Joseph took especial pleasure in learning about new ideas, and in providing the kind of support and guidance that exemplifies excellent teaching and mentorship. As Professor Talia Schaffer observed, “We are so lucky to have had a colleague who demonstrated how joyful and sustaining it is to live the life of the mind. In these unbelievably hard professional times, Gerhard modelled an academia of sheer joy.” 
Professor Joseph embodied the spirit of CUNY, and we are newly inspired by him in remembering him. As Lindsay Lehman, one of our student colleagues, noted, he wrote the following after his retirement:
I’ve often also said “in my next life I want to come back as an English Professor.”

But, where? In a selective, top-rank private university or private liberal arts college—in, say, Harvard or Amherst or Swarthmore? —or in the sort of place where I’ve spent most of my career — Lehman and the CUNY Graduate Center? Well, given the fact that my own higher education was exclusively in public universities, that I’m a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany and thus feel that I owe this country and city a lot (my parents and I landed at Ellis Island and spent our first few years in New York), and that many of the students that I’ve taught and am teaching at Lehman are themselves immigrants, either documented or undocumented (and who cares?), it’s an easy choice: I’d opt for a public urban university like CUNY, if not CUNY itself.

Of course, it’s a hypothetical — and if I come back at all, it’ll probably be as a snail or a sloth.
Professor Joseph will be missed.

Submitted on: FEB 5, 2021

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