Scholar, humanist, and collector Joseph Birdsall Dallett died Saturday, February 6, 2021 in Auburn, New York. His death, following a short illness, occurred at the Finger Lakes Center for Living where he had been a resident since July 29, 2020. Generous, compassionate, curious, and open-minded, he will be greatly missed by his many friends, family members and colleagues.
Joseph was born May 27, 1929 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to Francis James Dallett and Christine Louise Newman. He spent his formative years in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where childhood interests in the natural world, music, and languages were early expressions of a lifelong drive to grasp and interpret phenomena as coherent patterns of meaning.
Following the untimely death of their father, Joseph and his elder brother Jim were raised by their widowed mother, who instilled in them diligence and dedication to purpose. Joseph’s academic abilities and work ethic were recognized with awards and scholarships at Episcopal Academy and at Harvard College, where he majored in Classics, graduating summa cum laude in the Class of 1951. He furthered his education at the University of Pennsylvania, completing an MA in American Civilization while developing his interests in the reading and writing of poetry, in classical music as a dedicated amateur tenor, pianist, and recorder player, and as an enthusiastic collector of rare books.
Inducted into the United States Army in 1953, Joseph was honorably discharged in 1955. His Army service in the Federal Republic of Germany introduced him to that country’s language, culture, and literature, a fascination with which laid the foundations for his scholarly interests and subsequent professional career. Following further study with the support of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, Joseph enrolled in the graduate program in Comparative Literature at Harvard University, completing his PhD dissertation Paracelsus and the Rhetoric of Substitution in 1964. Accepting a teaching appointment in German literature at Cornell University, he moved to Ithaca, New York. Joseph Dallett married Anne Johnson in 1966; the couple had one son, Timothy Bentley Dallett, born in 1967.
In 1971 the family moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, for Joseph to join the Department of German at Carleton University, where he taught until his retirement in 1994 as Associate Professor. Joseph played an active role in his academic community, participating in numerous professional organizations and conferences in North America and Europe, serving as a faculty representative in the University Senate, and contributing to scholarly journals including the departmental publication Carleton Germanic Papers. On the occasion of his retirement, the latter journal dedicated a special issue to Joseph’s career as an educator, author, editor, and researcher in the field of German literature.
In retirement, Joseph returned to Ithaca, New York, renewing old friendships and making new ones, while developing his interests in the graphic art of the late Dutch Baroque into a focused practice of collection, research, and publication. Immersing himself in the work of Romeyn De Hooghe (1645-1708), Joseph curated Reflections to Astound: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Prints from a Private Collection, and Romeyn De Hooghe: Virtuoso Etcher in collaboration with the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, which presented these exhibitions in 1999 and 2009 respectively, with accompanying catalogs. Joseph’s later years were spent surrounded by the prints and books that testified to a life’s work of patient inquiry and in which he found extraordinary inspiration and enjoyment.
Joseph Birdsall Dallett was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Francis James Dallett Jr. He is survived by his son, Timothy. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to charitable organizations supporting medical research.
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