MDVL@Illinois remembers Professor James Marchand


Professor Emeritus James W. Marchand, titan of Germanic Literatures and Languages and noted pool shark, passed away at the age of 95 in December 2021.

Below, some Medieval Studies faculty share some of their memories of Professor Marchand.

“I was Jim's successor at U. of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign and met with him occasionally. He didn't come to campus much, but the way to lure him was to challenge him to a game of pool in the student center.  

He seemed to be informed about every field of medieval studies, at least every one I could bring up. I think one of his lasting contributions is that list, still consulted, of things every medievalist should know. []

Our main topic of conversation was politics. US was headed for the Iraq war. One exchange that I remember was about the lack of rhetorical skill in modern politicians: few great speeches (this was before Barack Obama), little passion. He said that his high school had required a course in rhetoric, where they read Cicero, wrote, memorized and performed speeches on various topics. Eloquence and passion were high accomplishments. 

He had and cultivated a southern or middle America presence, unpretentious man from the hinterlands who, it turns out, knew more and was sharper than the gentry from the Ivy Leagues. He was the Sam Ervin of medievalists.  

The obit in the New-Gazette is an excellent take on his person and his standing, a good overview of his background and the breadth of his learning. He was one of a number of Germanists who found their area of studies thanks to military service against the Germans in WW II.  

His presence was unforgettable. But I never could beat him in pool. Didn't even try at billiards. He probably would have beaten me "like a tight drum." 

-C. Stephen Jaeger, Professor Emeritus of Germanic Literatures and Languages


“[Jim Marchand] had retired by the time I returned to Illinois in 2003, but Charlie Wright overlapped with his final years on the faculty, when he masterminded an early medieval studies website. Marchand was an incredible polymath who offered non-credit lunchtime graduate seminars in his FLB office every day – what he called privatissima. I learned a lot from them as a doctoral candidate. Lots of Illinois PhDs were regular attendees of his privatissima, including many from the English department. Pat Hermann (ret. U of Alabama) was the one who recruited me; I probably was the one who recruited Mark Allen (ret. U of Texas-San Antonio).

Marchand was a pioneer in more ways than even the long obituary indicates. It didn't mention his work on machine translation in the years immediately following WW II, for example. He also was an ace pool shark, well-known among the denizens of the Illini Union.”


-Martin Camargo, Professor Emeritus of English


Jim was a colleague of mine at Illinois, and already something of a legend to me when I first came there from the stories I had heard from former students of his. He was an incredibly learned man, a wonderful storyteller, and a real gentleman.

Many of you will remember the heady early days of MEDTEXTL when scholarly email lists were a new thing, and Jim kept us all edified and entertained for several years until he had to give up moderating the list for health reasons. MEDTEXTL continues to be one of the most informative and valuable lists for medievalists under the leadership of Bill Schipper. It is a wonderful legacy Jim has left us, in addition to his own superb scholarly contributions in his field of medieval German literature (and many other subjects).

He was a real polymath and I'm sure he had a photographic memory. At the UI he was famous for his "privatissima," off-the-books, non-credit private classes he would teach to small groups on any subject anybody wanted to learn.”

-Charles Wright, Professor Emeritus of English

The Program in Medieval Studies extends its deepest condolences to Professor Marchand's family, friends, and colleagues.