Dr. Sidney DeVere Brown, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Oklahoma, died at age 85, at his home in Norman, Okla, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, after a long illness.
Arrangements for services are pending. Internment will take place at the Elmwood Cemetery in Augusta.
Born on Jan. 29, 1925, in a farmhouse near Douglass, he grew up on a wheat and cattle farm not so far from the Flint Hills in Butler County. He graduated from Augusta High School in 1941. His undergraduate education at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kan., was interrupted by World War II. He served as a naval officer, 1943-1946, completing the intensive 14-month course at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to mark the beginning of his specialization in Japanese history. He earned an A.B. degree in history and government from Southwestern College in 1947. In 1948, he married his college classmate, Ruth Esther Murray, and began graduate studies in history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, completing the M.A. and Ph.D., the latter in 1952.
Brown was a professor of history at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater from 1952 to 1971 before moving to Norman to join the University of Oklahoma faculty which he served until his retirement in 1995. He taught courses in East Asian history throughout his career. He offered a popular full-year course in Japanese history that regularly attracted 100 students, in addition to special courses on Chinese history, Korean history, and Southeast Asian history.
His principal research was in nineteenth-century Japanese history, and he was one of the first to write about the history of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 – an event that marked the end of shogun rule and the move to modernize Japanese government and society – along with its principal leaders, based on the primary sources in Japanese. He was the leading American expert on two of those leaders, Kido Takayoshi and Okubo Toshimichi, and his three-volume biography and translation of The Diary of Kido Takayoshi, 1868-1877, was the winner of the Japan Cultural Translation Prize of the Japan Translators Association in Tokyo in 1986. He also published articles, delivered lectures, and helped produce a video about the popularity of jazz music in Japan. He, himself, travelled to Japan nineteen times during his career. In 2003 and 2008, he arranged trips to Japan with all his children and grandchildren, including visits to the hometowns of Kido and Okubo.
Brown was a foreign research fellow at Tokyo University on three occasions, as a Ford Foundation Fellow in 1956-1957, and as a Japan Foundation Fellow in 1977-1978 and 1984-1985. He has lectured at Harvard University and Princeton University, and taken part in symposiums of the Iwakura Mission Society in Tokyo, at the University of Sheffield, and Hokkaido University among other places. His year-long visiting professorships were at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, and he taught for shorter periods at the University of Kansas, University of Wisconsin, University of Colorado, University of Nebraska, East Central State College, and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (where he was Regents Professor). Since 2003, he has presented fall courses for the School of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Brown was elected to the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame, 2000, to the Scholars Hall of Fame, Southwestern College, Winfield in 2004, and received the Jackson and Caroline Bailey Public Service Award of the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs at its Michigan State University meeting in 1999. He was in Who’s Who in America.
In 2008, he provided his friends and family a detailed, moving account of his childhood and young adulthood in a memoir entitled Kansas Farmboy. He described the hard work of surviving the Great Depression on a largely self-sufficient farm in Bloomington, Kan. where his parents, Leonard and Jessie, raised him, his sister Barbara, and his brother Stanley. He portrayed the close-knit community of his youth, where social life focused on the country store, the church, and the school.
He was a member of the Lions Club and the Norman Singers. He was a fan of Duke Ellington, Will Rogers, OU football, and OU basketball, and in his later years could be found every weekday morning having coffee with a group of friends at Homeland, never failing to buy a copy of the New York Times before leaving the store.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Leonard and Jessie Brown, his sister, Barbara Brown Unruh, and his wife of fifty-four years, Dr. Ruth Murray Brown.
He is survived by: his good friend, Dr. Beverly Joyce of Norman; his four children, Dr. Margaret Nickell of Kansas City, Mo., and her husband, Dr. Barry Nickell, Dr. Nancy E. Brown of Norman, Okla., Dr. Russell M. Brown of Lexington, Ky., and his wife, Kathy Loeb, and Dr. Frederick L. Brown of Seattle, Wash.; his five grandchildren, Ellen Nickell of New Orleans, La., Elliott Nickell of Brooklyn, NY, and his wife, Elizabeth Nickell, Carrie Nickell of La Grande, Ore., Michael Brown of Ann Arbor, Mich., and David Brown of Grinnell, Iowa; his brother, Stanley Brown of Hanover, Penn., and his wife, Sandra Brown; eight nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, donations to support student scholarships may be made to the Sidney DeVere Brown Award in East Asian History Fund by sending checks to Karen Renfroe, Director of Regional Development, The University of Oklahoma, 339 W. Boyd, Norman, OK 73019. Checks should be made payable to the OU Foundation with “Sidney DeVere Brown Fund #42040)” in the memo line.
Condolences may be sent to Brown family, 700 Nancy Lynn Terrace, Norman, OK 73069.