Passings: Orest Subtelny made significant contributions to history research

Orest Subtelny
Orest Subtelny

Long-serving York University Professor Emeritus Orest Subtelny passed away in Toronto on Sunday, July 24.

Subtelny joined the Department of History in 1982 to take up a position that was in part funded by the Canadian Ukrainian community. Throughout his York career until his retirement in 2015, he was cross-appointed to the Department of Political Science.

Born in Krakow on May 17, 1941, Subtelny and his parents left Poland in 1949 for the United States as refugees and settled in Philadelphia. By coincidence, he went to the same high school (Central High School) as another member (now retired) of York’s History Department, Marc Egnal. He completed his BA in history in 1965 at Temple University before moving south to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his MA in history in 1967. He then headed to Harvard for his PhD, which he completed in history and Middle Eastern studies in 1973 with a thesis on “Unwilling Allies: The Relations of Hetman Pylyp Orlyk with the Ottoman Porte and the Crimean Khanate”.

After two years as a lecturer in Harvard’s History Department, he went on to teach as assistant and then associate professor of history at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., before moving to Toronto in 1982 to take up a position at York. In 1987, he was promoted to full professor and remained at York until his retirement in 2015. In 1993, he taught as a visiting professor at the University of Tübingen.

During his scholarly career, Subtelny published six monographs and numerous articles and book chapters on Ukrainian and East European history. His books include The Mazepists: Ukrainian Separatism in the Early Eighteenth Century (Columbia University Press, 1981), Domination of Eastern Europe: Native Nobilities and Foreign Absolutism, 1500-1715 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986) and Ukrainians in North America: An Illustrated History (University of Toronto Press 1991).

But, unquestionably, it was his major history of the Ukraine, Ukraine: A History (University of Toronto Press, first published in 1988, 666 pp., but updated in three subsequent editions up to the fourth edition of 2009, extending to 784 pages, and translated into a number of languages) that represented his major scholarly achievement. At the time of his death, he was working on a history of the Plast Ukrainian Scouting movement.

subtelny 2In addition, Subtelny served as Canadian editor of the journal Nationalities Papers from 1991 to 1998. From 1998 to 2012, he was a director of Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) projects in Ukraine, some of which concerned initiatives for the training of Ukrainian diplomats and foreign policy analysts.

For his many scholarly and professional contributions, Subtelny was awarded the Order of Merit by the Government of Ukraine in 2002. He was also named a Foreign Member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in 1993, and awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine. In 1983, he won the Antonovych Prize for the best work in Ukrainian Studies. In Canada he was awarded the Shevchenko Medal by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress for his outstanding contributions to the development of the Ukrainian Canadian community in the category of Education.

The President of Ukraine, Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko, has expressed his condolences to Subtelny’s family as follows: “You have my deepest condolences regarding the aching void that was left after Orest Subtelny passed away. His contribution to the Ukraine’s history is priceless”.

“On behalf of York’s History Department, I would like to convey our sincerest condolences to Orest’s immediate family, in particular to his wife, Maria Subtelny, professor and former Chair of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto, and his son, Dr. Alexander Subtelny, resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston,” said Jonathan Edmondson, professor and chair, Department of History at York University.

Visitation will take place at Turner & Porter, Yorke Chapel, 2357 Bloor St. W., Toronto, on Thursday, July 28, from 2 to 4pm and 6 to 9pm, and Panakhyda at 7:30pm. The funeral mass will be held on Friday, July 29, at 10am at St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church, 135 La Rose Ave., followed by interment at Park Lawn Cemetery. Friends are invited to join the family at a Celebration of Life reception at the Old Mill Restaurant, 21 Old Mill Rd., immediately thereafter.