Robert Hegel named first Liselotte Dieckmann Professor; gift from late professor honors mentor

Robert E. Hegel, Ph.D., professor of Chinese in Asian and Near Eastern Languages & Literatures in Arts & Sciences, became the first holder of the Liselotte Dieckmann Professorship in Comparative Literature on Feb. 2 at a ceremony in Holmes Lounge.

The professorship is the gift of the late William H. Matheson, a professor of comparative literature and a member of the Committee on Comparative Literature in Arts & Sciences, who retired from teaching in 1996 after 25 years at Washington University. Matheson made the bequest to honor his mentor and the person responsible for his joining the faculty. The gift was augmented with funds from the University’s Sesquicentennial Endowed Professorship Challenge.

“The professorship honors three great citizens and scholars of Washington University: Liselotte Dieckmann, Bill Matheson and Bob Hegel,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “By naming his gift after his mentor, Bill pays homage to those who came before him and creates a permanent reminder of the link that connects present and future scholars and teachers with the past. We are greatly indebted to his life’s work and to this selfless gift that will benefit generations to come.”

Hegel has been at Washington University for more than 30 years. A leading scholar in traditional Chinese fiction, his teaching and research focus on early modern China from 1300-1900, specifically the fiction of the middle Ming and Qing period, as well as theatre. In addition to two books, Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China, and The Novel in Seventeenth Century China, he has authored many essays, several translations of literary works and theoretical articles, and a scholarly handbook. He also has co-edited a volume called Expressions of Self in Chinese Literature, and will have another, Writing and Law in Late Imperial China, published early next year.

During his tenure he has taught a broad array of courses, and has chaired both the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages & Literatures and the Committee on Comparative Literature. In 1989 he received the University’s Founders Day Award. In 2001, he was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award, and on three separate occasions he received special recognition for Excellence in Mentoring from the Graduate Student Senate.

A member of the Association of Asian Studies and the Society for Ming Studies, Hegel contributes actively to professional associations, and referees journal articles and monograph manuscripts.

Liselotte “Lilo” Dieckmann arrived in St. Louis by a rather circuitous route. She was a native of Frankfurt, Germany and grew up in a culture that provided broad exposure to the classical and liberal arts. After studying languages and literatures at German universities, she received her doctoral degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1927.

She began her teaching career at the University of Istanbul, Turkey, in 1938, but soon moved with her family to St. Louis, where she taught at John Burroughs High School. In 1945 she joined Washington University’s French department, and two years later, the German department, which she chaired from 1963 to 1967. She was promoted to full professor in 1959, and continued to teach until her retirement in 1971.

Even after her retirement, she remained active in comparative literature, and continued her scholarly work. During her many years at Washington University, Dieckmann carved out a distinguished career as a scholar of German and French literature as well as served as a model for female faculty, becoming the first woman here to chair a department. Dieckmann remained active until her death in 1994.

Her considerable intellectual acumen and energy left a deep mark on her junior colleague.

“Bill Matheson’s legacy is an abiding love for the humanities and it endures through this professorship,” said Edward S. Macias, the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts & Sciences. “Washington University is a much better place because of Bill and Liselotte, and Bob richly deserves this honor.”