Karl Uitti, scholar of Romance languages, dies
By Eric Quiñones
Princeton NJ -- Karl D. Uitti, a leading scholar of Romance languages and a member of the Princeton faculty for 44 years, died Nov. 11. He was 69.
Uitti, who specialized in French medieval literature, was known for a broad range of Romance language scholarship and for using modern technologies to enhance the study of medieval languages. Uitti was the John Woodhull Professor of Modern Languages and a professor of French and Italian, and a former chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.
"He had a deep familiarity with the languages, literatures and history of all the peoples that speak and write in one or another of the Romance languages," said Lionel Gossman, the M. Taylor Pyne Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Emeritus. "Probably he was one of the last of this remarkable breed."
"Though he was thoroughly trained in Romance philology, one of the leading medievalists of his generation and the editor of several important French medieval texts, he was also an expert in late 19th- and early 20th-century literature and had a lively interest in contemporary Latin American and Latino culture as well," Gossman noted.
"Karl Uitti was one of the greatest medievalists in this country," said François Rigolot, the Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French Literature. Uitti established links with major medieval centers in France, Italy, Spain and Russia, bringing many international scholars to the University as visiting researchers. "This was an extraordinary stimulating factor for our own medievalists, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels," Rigolot said.
Uitti was the author of several books and monographs as well as dozens of articles and reviews. The main focus of his research was in medieval Romance studies, but his published work covered a range of subjects, including late 19th- and early 20th-century French literature, modern literature, history and theory of literary criticism and analysis, and theory and history of philology.
For the past several years, Uitti had been dedicated to developing computer-assisted research and pedagogy in his field by leading the "Charette Project," which involves the computerization of the medieval "Lancelot" manuscript tradition.
Among many professional activities, Uitti was the general editor of the Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature and a member of the editorial boards of French Forum and Romance Philology. The French government conferred upon Uitti the ranks of Chevalier and Officier of the Palmes Académiques in honor of his teaching and his work in promoting French culture.
Uitti joined the Princeton faculty in 1959 after earning his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley. From 1972 to 1978 he served as chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (now divided into the Department of French and Italian and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures).
Uitti enhanced the Department of Romance Languages by recruiting a number of distinguished faculty members. "He was a towering presence in our midst and stood up firmly and openly for the things he believed in. Even when you didn't agree with him, you respected the strength of his convictions," said Gossman, who was recruited from Johns Hopkins University by Uitti.
In addition to teaching an array of courses, Uitti directed to completion roughly 40 doctoral dissertations. Many of his former students have become faculty members at universities around the world. "He was a most caring and inspiring teacher," said Arcadio Diaz-Quiñones, the Emory Ford Professor of Spanish and professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures.
Survivors include his wife, Michelle A. Freeman; a daughter, Maria Elizabeth McCabe; and two sons, David and Jacob.
Services were held Nov. 16. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Crawford House, a residential treatment facility for women in early recovery from substance abuse, at P.O. Box 255, Skillman, NJ 08558.