Helen Victoria Delpar

May 10, 1936July 14, 2018

Helen V. Delpar, age 82, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., passed away July 14, 2018 at DCH Regional Medical Center. Dr. Helen Delpar was a long-time member of the Department of History at the University of Alabama. She came to Tuscaloosa in 1974 as an historian of modern Latin America and stayed her entire career, retiring in 2006 as a Professor Emerita of History. A pioneer in many ways, she was the second woman to join the Department and helped pave the way for opening the Department and the field of Latin American history nationally to women over the past half century. Helen was a New Yorker and was known to all as embodying all those wonderful, easily identifiable characteristics of the average New Yorker which were summarized by her many friends and acquaintances over the years by saying "Helen spoke her mind." She received her undergraduate degree from Douglass College of Rutgers University in 1957, her M. A. from New York University in 1961 and her Ph.D. in 1967 from Columbia University where she wrote her dissertation with Dr. Lewis Hanke, one of the premier Latin American historians of his era. Before coming to Alabama she was an assistant professor in Panama at the Canal Zone Branch of Florida State University from 1969-1973. Early in her career at Alabama she established herself as a demanding professor who expected the most of her students. She also had begun a career in writing before coming to Alabama that especially highlighted her gifts of editing and making the works of other historians available in readers and anthologies, especially for undergraduate and graduate students. Her first major work, The Borzoi Reader in Latin American History (Knopf, New York, 1972), was a two-volume set of readings, with Delpar introducing the whole work plus each reading, which was a standard teaching tool all over the country for many years, and it is still available after almost a half century since it first appeared. Over the years she edited some of the best-selling works in Latin American history, such as A Reference Guide to Latin American History (2000) and broadened her contributions in this area of readings and encyclopedias with The Discoverers: An Encyclopedia of Explorers and Exploration (1979) which became a standard in the field of explorers and exploration for many years. Her Looking South: The Evolution of Latin Americanist Scholarship in the United States, 1850-1975 (2009) became a standard source and interpretation of the evolution of Latin American Studies in this country. Her country specialty began as Colombia, not surprisingly since her mother was a Colombian native and she grew up with a love of both her mother's country and an appreciation of her Greek-born father's world. Her Red Against Blue: The Liberal Party in Colombian Politics, 1863-1899 first published in 1981 by the University of Alabama Press established her credentials as one of the leading Colombianists in the U. S. Perhaps her most popular book in the field of Latin American history was a brilliant study of the relations between the United States and Mexico in the 1920s, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920-1935 published by the University of Alabama Press, in 1992. She explored with deep knowledge and great perception the relations between these two countries which have always been complex, focusing on the immense range of cultural relations and the particular fascination, admiration, and emulation many US artists, writers, musicians had for post-revolutionary Mexico and Mexicans and how this cultural interaction on both sides of the border has left a lasting impression on the US. Aside from her books, Helen published widely in the professional journals and magazines of histories. She had a great way with words caught, for example, in "Coeds and the 'Lords of Creation': Women Students at the University of Alabama, 1893-1930," (Alabama Review, 1989). And she was also recognized for her work and contributions by serving as President of the South Eastern Council of Latin American Studies organization in 1984-1985 and in many other professional capacities in national organizations. Helen was an only child and had only one remaining cousin, Ivonne Tobón, who lives on the West Coast, but she had a very loving family in the world of history, and most especially in the Department of History at the University. Among those who contributed to her well-being in declining health, especially after she moved to the Capstone Village, were her colleagues and good friends, Steve Bunker, Michael Mendle, Larry Clayton, Kari Frederickson and many others, including the ladies managing the Department, Ellen Pledger, Christina Kircharr, and Morta Riggs. Pam Murray, in the History Department at UAB, was one of the many good friends Helen developed over the years. While never having a family of her own, Helen mentored and taught many undergraduates, graduate students, and junior scholars for over three decades and whose admiration for and gratitude to "Aunt Helen" is her lasting and finest legacy. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Helen's name to Doctors Without Borders or The Humane Society of West Alabama. Condolences may be offered at


  • Celebration of Life Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Helen Victoria Delpar

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