The REEI community mourns the loss of REEI Distinguished Alumnus Stephen F. Cohen, who died Friday, September 18, 2020. Steve was a preeminent scholar of Soviet and Russian political history who began his academic career at IU, where he earned a B.S. in business economics and public policy in 1960, followed by an M.A. in government and Russian Studies in 1962. Steve completed a Ph.D. in government and Russian Studies at Columbia University in 1968 and went on to a distinguished 20-year career as Professor of Politics at Princeton University. Cohen became Professor of Politics, Emeritus at Princeton in 1998 and continued to teach at NYU until his retirement in 2011, when he became Professor Emeritus of Russian and Slavic Studies. In 1998 the IU College of Arts and Sciences recognized Steve with its Distinguished Alumni Award, and REEI honored him as an REEI Distinguished Alumnus in 2011.
Major benefactors of REEI, Stephen F. Cohen and his wife, Katrina Vanden Heuvel established the Institute's Tucker-Cohen Fellowship in 2011. The Tucker-Cohen Fellowship memorializes Cohen's mentor, the late Robert C. Tucker, a distinguished political scientist, diplomat, and Stalin biographer who, as a professor of government at IU, played a critical role in the formation of REEI. Since its inception, the Tucker-Cohen Fellowship has supported the study of five M.A. students with interests in the history and politics of the Soviet Union and/or Russia. REEI is gratified to continue awarding the Tucker-Cohen Fellowship to outstanding M.A. students, thereby honoring the scholarship, generosity, and legacy of Stephen F. Cohen for years to come.
Since 2015 the KAT Charitable Foundation, working through the Association for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), has sponsored the Stephen F. Cohen-Robert C. Tucker Dissertation Fellowship Program for Russian Historical Studies to support the next generation of US scholars in Russian studies through dissertation research and dissertation completion fellowship awards.
Steve and Katrina most recently visited IU in September, 2019. They delivered a joint lecture ,“What the New Cold War Means for US Policy and Media,” after which Steve signed his latest book, War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (2019). Katrina, former editorial director and now publisher and part owner of The Nation, discussed her career and the changing profession of journalism, while also sharing reporting stories, in an address at the IU Media School. The culmination of Steve's last visit to IU was a rich discussion between Steve and his close friend and colleague, distinguished historian of the Bolshevik Revolution Alexander Rabinowitch (IU Professor Emeritus of History and former Director of REEI). Moderated by Katrina and Janet Rabinowitch, Steve and Alex's life partners, Russian Odysseys: Six (Plus!) Decades of Scholarly and Personal Engagement with Russia provided Steve and Alex with the opportunity to discuss their differing paths to Russia and Russian studies as well as the impact of their engagement with Russia on their scholarship and their personal lives. A video of the "Russian Odysseys" conversation is available here.
REEI extends heartfelt condolences to Steve's family and friends, including his wife Katrina Vanden Heuvel; his children Andrew, Alexandra ("Dusty"), and Nicola; his sister Judith; and his four grandchildren.
Steve's obituary (quoted below) appeared in the New York Times on 9.19.20, as part of a long article about his life and career:
Stephen Frand Cohen was born in Indianapolis on Nov. 25, 1938, the older of two children of Marvin and Ruth (Frand) Cohen. His father owned a jewelry store and a golf course in Hollywood, Fla. Stephen and his sister, Judith, attended schools in Owensboro, Ky., but Stephen graduated in 1956 from the Pine Crest School, a private school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
He loved the novels of Hemingway. As an undergraduate at Indiana University, he went to England on a study-abroad program. He had saved $300 for a side trip to Pamplona to run with the bulls. But an advertisement he saw for a 30-day, $300 trip to the U.S.S.R. changed his life.
Back at Indiana University, he gave up plans to be a golf pro and took up Russian studies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and public policy in 1960 and a master’s in Russian studies in 1962. In 1969, he received a doctorate in that subject from Columbia University.
Professor Cohen’s marriage in 1962 to the opera singer Lynn Blair ended in divorce. He married Ms. vanden Heuvel in 1988. In addition to her, he is survived by a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Alexandra Cohen, from his first marriage; another daughter, Nicola Cohen, from his second marriage; a sister, Judith Lefkowitz; and four grandchildren.
His Columbia dissertation on Mr. Bukharin’s economic ideas grew into his first book, copies of which reached Soviet dissidents, the K.G.B. in Moscow, and eventually Mr. Gorbachev, who put Professor Cohen on his guest list for the 1987 Gorbachev-Reagan summit in Washington.
Professor Cohen taught at Princeton from 1968 to 1998, rising to full professor of politics and Russian studies, and at New York University thereafter until his retirement in 2011. His last book, published in 2019, was “War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate.”