William E. Harkins, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia University, was a true renaissance man: he was an expert on Russian prose, a specialist in Slavic folklore, one of the first American scholars to do serious work in Czech literature, the author of a monograph on Karel Čapek, a translator from Czech, the author of the Dictionary of Russian Literature, the author of a Czech language textbook and co-author of a widely used textbook of Russian grammar, and a promoter of regional studies. Generations of Columbia students remember him fondly for his contribution to their training on all these fronts, as well as for his good will, his attention to their development as writers, and his having made them attuned to the interplay of word and image in Slavic culture. His colleagues were profoundly grateful to him for his generous service to the Slavic Department, the Russian Institute, the university, and the Slavic field at large. He played an important role in making Columbia an important center for Slavic studies. Born in 1921 in State College, Pennsylvania, William Harkins received his B.A. degree from Pennsylvania State University. After military service, he did his graduate work in the Slavic Department at Columbia and received his doctorate in 1950. His dissertation, published as a book, was The Russian Folk Epos in Czech Literature. Professor Harkins taught in the Slavic Department at Columbia for the next forty years.
William E. Harkins (1921-2014)Professor Emeritus, Department of Slavic Languages; Director of the Russian Institute 1974-76, 1980-81