Historian Winks suffers a stroke

History professor Robin Winks, one of Yale’s most renowned scholars and a faculty member since 1957, suffered a stroke on Saturday and has stopped teaching his two courses, “The Writing of History” and “The National Parks: Lessons in Diversity, Environmental Quality and Justice.”

Currently, Winks is at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and it is unclear whether he will return to teaching this semester. No medical details were available.

“Robin Winks has been a major figure in the life of this institution, as a great historian, a great teacher and a longtime master of Berkeley College,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said. “We’re all hoping he has a speedy recovery.”

History and American studies professor John Demos has assumed the teaching responsibility for Winks’ “Writing of History” seminar and will begin instruction on Tuesday.

Winks was also co-teaching a course on national parks with visiting professor Robert Stanton in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Stanton said he will teach the course on his own until a replacement for Winks is found.

Although the environment school has not been as fortunate, the History Department was able to find a replacement immediately in Demos. History chairman Jon Butler said similarities in scholarship and a lack of scheduling conflicts made Demos a clear choice to take over Winks’ seminar.

“We want to do the very best that we can in a very difficult situation at this point in the semester,” Butler said. “We have responsibilities to our students and with professor Demos’ generosity, we can help fulfill the responsibilities that Robin would’ve wanted us to fill.”

In the past, Winks used Demos’ book “The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America” in his seminar and regularly invited Demos in to give guest presentations.

In addition, Demos teaches a graduate-level course that is similar to Winks’ seminar and conducts a Graduate School workshop on the writing of history.

“From those experiences, I do have a good idea of how the course works, so I think I’ll be able to manage [teaching three classes],” Demos said.

Charlie Billington ’04, a student in Winks’ class, said he was “saddened and disappointed” by the news because he had been looking forward to taking the seminar with Winks. But Billington added that Demos is a qualified replacement, given his scholarship and relationship to Winks.

“[Demos] has a very different style than professor Winks does,” Billington said. “But [Demos] has a lot of experience teaching and writing history and has been a good friend of Winks’ for a long time, so I think it’s the best choice,” Billington said.

Demos said that he plans to use Winks’ syllabus for the class and will make a strong effort to teach a course that meets the expectations of the students.

“On the one hand, I really do want to fulfill the contract that the course embodies for the students. I plan to follow the same syllabus and raise the same questions and issues,” Demos said. “But when it comes to matters of style, everyone has their own style. I can’t try to duplicate what I think is induplicable. Professor Winks has a very lively and unique style, but I’ll do the best I can.”

Butler and Demos went to Winks’ seminar on Tuesday to break the news to the students because the History Department felt it was important to talk to the class members “directly and as soon as possible,” Butler said.

Although the History Department has begun helping the environment school find a replacement for Winks, it is too early to know what the new structure of the national parks course will be, Stanton said.

Stanton, a former National Parks Service director, said he was “shocked and disheartened” by the news because Winks was a close friend and one of the reasons he had decided to come to Yale as a visiting professor.

“Dr. Winks is an outstanding professor and one of the foremost authorities on the history of national parks,” Stanton said. “I think anyone would be disappointed not the have the presence of Dr. Winks.”

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