Robert "Bob" Tignor

Robert “Bob” L. Tignor, 89 years old, passed away after a short illness on December 9 in his home in Princeton, NJ.


Bob, a dedicated father, husband, and scholar, was born in Philadelphia on November 20, 1933. His father, Bob M. Tignor, was the minister of the Yeadon Presbyterian church and his mother, Martha, taught high school Latin. The oldest of five, Bob was a natural leader whose work ethic emerged in childhood – from the classroom to the sports fields to his first job at the Breyers ice cream factory. Bob earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster in 1955 and his Ph.D. at Yale University before joining the faculty at Princeton University, where he taught for 46 years until 2006. He was the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Emeritus, and a pathbreaking scholar of British colonialism and its aftermath, world history, and the modern histories of Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya. He was also affiliated with the Program in Near Eastern Studies and the Program in African Studies and served as director of the latter from 1970 to 1979.


As a teacher, Bob offered Princeton’s first courses in African history. As a scholar, he immersed himself in the study of the continent, learning Arabic and exploring new historical methods, including ethnographic accounts of the roles of the Kamba, Kikuyu and Maasai peoples of East Africa in the rise and fall of the British empire in Kenya. His research took him to Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, England, and Kenya, countries where he and his family would live during sabbatical years.


His 14 years as chair of the Department of History was considered transformative, as he helped push the intellectual frontiers of the department beyond Europe and North America. He supported the creation of new kinds of courses, in new fields, with connections and support for interdisciplinary international studies, especially in African, Asian and Latin American studies, and initiated graduate and undergraduate courses in world history. He focused on empire and capitalism before either topic was fashionable, writing seven books on African history. His book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the Modern World: 1300 to the Present” (Norton, 2002), a two-volume history of the world, is generally regarded as the defining scholarly work in the field and the leading college-level textbook on global history.


A full list of Bob’s publications and academic honors are included in the Princeton University obituary. []]


Beyond his own scholarship, Bob was a dedicated mentor to generations of undergraduate and graduate students in modern African history and modern world history. Among his graduate students, many of whom went on to prestigious academic careers, he is remembered for his wry-sense of humor and no-nonsense approach.


The easy athleticism and competitive spirit that Bob showed as a child – from the swimming pool to the basketball court to the football field where he played quarterback on his intramural college team – continued into his adulthood. Among colleagues and friends, he was known as a fierce and fearsome tennis and squash player. His childhood loyalty to Philadelphia sports teams never wavered, and he was equally devoted to his Princeton Tigers as an adult. A passionate spectator, Bob’s game-watching moods ranged from sheer glee to total exasperation. He never shied away from letting the refs know when he disagreed with a call - which was not infrequently - or voicing his opinions when watching games on TV (and sometimes waking up his sleeping children in the process).


Bob was fair, honest, and deeply committed to helping others, most especially through education. Not one to slow down in “retirement,” he continued writing, publishing books on the Nobel-winning economist W. Arthur Lewis, a short history of Egypt, and a biography of Anwar al-Sadat. He also completed revisions of “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” and wrote a companion volume. Bob continued his work as a member on the Board of Trustees for The College of Wooster, a role that brought him great pleasure. He volunteered as a reader for the blind; worked with struggling elementary school learners in the read-aloud program at a local elementary school, and helped women living in a shelter get their GED. Bob offered adult education lectures to the Princeton community and held advanced group history discussions in his home for a group of motivated high school students.


Among many things, his family will remember his commitment to summer vacations on Cape Cod spanning 60 years and countless trips taking children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to the Brewster General store.


Bob’s wife of 66 years, Marian, suffered a fatal stroke on Dec. 15, just six days after Bob’s death. He was predeceased by his son, Jeffrey David Tignor, who died in 2003. He is survived by his brother, Richard Tignor; his sisters, Joan Tiernan and Judy Russo; his daughters, Laura Tignor and Sandra Selby and husband Trevor Selby; four grandchildren, Sam Cobb, Hilde McKernan, Owen Selby and Isabel Selby; and two great-grandchildren, Hunter and Harper McKernan.


A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, 50 Cherry Hill Rd., Princeton, New Jersey, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.


Donations may be made to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, Thirteen – New York Public Media (WNET/PBS), and The College of Wooster.