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Emory couple lives on through graduate school award

By Terri McIntosh | Development Communications | April 18, 2014

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Emory Photo/Video
Blair Rogers Major and her husband, James Russell Major, first arrived on the Emory campus in 1949. He was starting a job as a professor in the Department of History, and the two shared housing with a handful of other faculty families on the site where the law school now stands. She became a long-standing member of the Emory Women’s Club, while he became a pioneer of historical study at Emory, devoting his entire career to building the department.
 
Blair Major passed away in December 2013, and the Emory community celebrated her life in April 2014 with a special service in Canon Chapel on campus. James Russell Major passed away in December 1998. Together they created a tremendous legacy at Emory, which will continue through the Blair Rogers Major and James Russell Major Dissertation Award in the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies.
 
 “Blair and Russell Major worked at everything they did as a team, and they served the Emory community and the cause of graduate education all their lives,” says Ginger Hicks Smith 77C 82G, director of external affairs for the Emory Libraries and a longtime friend of the Majors.
 
The Majors established the award in grateful recognition of a grant they received when he was completing his dissertation at Princeton University. They were trying to survive with two small children on the GI Bill and a teaching assistantship when they unexpectedly received a fellowship. The Major Dissertation Award is their way of helping ongoing generations of students in the Laney Graduate School.
 
The Major Award is given annually to the most promising student writing a dissertation on the history of Europe and European expansion from classical antiquity to the present. Professor Major was an authority on early modern French government.
 
For the 2013 academic year, Glen Goodman 11G 14G received the award for his dissertation on the intersection of immigration, ethnicity, and regional and national identity in 20th-century Brazil. Goodman, who also received highly competitive fellowships from Fulbright and the German National Research Fund, will be an assistant professor of Brazilian studies this fall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
 
For Elizabeth Bouldin 12PhD, who received the award in 2009, the Majors’ support financed a research trip to England. “The Majors Award enabled me to spend several months conducting research in archives in Oxford and London,” she says. Now a visiting assistant professor in the history departments at Oxford College and Emory University, Bouldin studies how gender, religion, and community combined to form a distinctive early modern British Atlantic world.
 
“When I returned from the UK in 2010, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Major,” Bouldin says. “It was fascinating to hear about her experiences in post-war Europe. At one point, her family of six, which included four young children, camped out for three months in the Bois de Boulogne during a research trip to France.”
 
James Russell Major recounted the adventure in the acknowledgements section of his book, From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy: French Kings, Nobles, and Estates. “We were married while I was still in the army in World War II and have enjoyed the entire academic experience together,” he wrote. “It began at 11 Dickinson Place at Princeton .... It progressed to a voyage to Europe in 1952 with four children aged six and under, and it was capped the following summer by a three-month tour of the French provincial archives in a four-passenger Ford Victoria with all our luggage tied on the roof and a child in her lap.”
 
To learn how you can support the Blair Rogers Major and James Russell Major Dissertation Award or create your own fellowship fund to honor someone, contact Katie Busch in the Laney Graduate School development office, 404.727.1521 or kbusch@emory.edu.