Abington mourns the loss of Roy Robson, professor of history

Roy Robson

Roy Robson was a professor of history at Penn State Abington.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — Members of the Penn State Abington campus community are paying tribute to Roy Robson, professor of history and a leading scholar of Russian history, who died on Jan. 29.

"Roy was a dynamic, engaging and inspiring teacher as well as an innovative scholar working across disciplinary lines in history and religious studies. He will be missed as a teacher, scholar and colleague," Andrew August, interim chancellor, said.

Friederike Baer, division head for Arts and Humanities and associate professor history, hailed Robson for the kindness, humor and humanity he brought to his work.

"Roy was a popular instructor, adviser and student mentor who undoubtedly had a positive impact on the many students he taught at Abington and other institutions. He will be sorely missed," she said. 

Robson joined Abington in 2015 as the division head for Arts and Humanities and professor of history with a special interest in Orthodox Christianity. His distinguished scholarly record includes three books and more than two dozen book chapters and journal articles.

Robson's monograph, "Solovki: The Story of Russia Told Through Its Most Remarkable Islands" (2004), was uniformly praised by reviewers for its elegant prose and exemplary use of archival sources. The New Yorker hailed it as an “epic drama of spiritualism and savagery, set in one of the world’s most extreme frontier territories.” During his career, Robson received numerous fellowships and grants, including four National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships and a Fulbright Fellowship to Finland.

Although his scholarly expertise was in Russian history and religious studies, Robson's teaching covered significantly more ground, and he was always open to new ideas, including developing an innovative, interdisciplinary course on the concept of time.  

Robson was passionate about music, and he supported student-focused initiatives, including developing industry connections that provided students with access to instruments and internship opportunities. He was a tireless advocate for the music performance and entrepreneurship theme within the integrative arts major. At the time of his death, he was collaborating with John Pachence, associate teaching professor of integrative arts, on a sponsored research project with the Roger Nichols Archive, which includes material related to John Denver’s 1985 tour of the Soviet Union.

His interest in music intersected with his personal life as his wife, Kim Robson, is the director of choirs and band on campus. 

The Abington Student Government Association honored Robson in 2021 for his dedication to students. At the time, Robson reflected on his affection for the campus community.

“When I first arrived at Penn State Abington, I immediately knew it was a special place. It’s humbling to be honored by our students, who make Abington a warm and welcoming academic community,” he said.

Prior to arriving at Abington, Robson taught at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia for almost two decades. He earned degrees in history from Allegheny College, the University of Pittsburgh and Boston College.