Joseph L. Arnold, 66, professor, historian


Joseph Larkin Arnold, a longtime professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who specialized in urban history and wrote several well-known books on the subject, died of septic shock Sunday at Howard County General Hospital. He was 66.

"Joe Arnold was a vital and enormously important member of the UMBC faculty for some 3 1/2 decades," said John Jeffries, a professor and history department chairman there.

"Though his interests and learning were remarkably wide-ranging, his primary focus as a scholar and teacher was on urban history and the history of Baltimore and Maryland. His first book, The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program, 1935-1954, published in 1971, quickly became and remains the standard account of New Deal community planning efforts," he said.

His most recent book, Maryland: Old Line To New Prosperity, published last year and written with Anirban Basu, traces the industrialization of the state from its founding in the 17th century to the present.

A prolific author of articles, monographs and books, Dr. Arnold was the co-author with Edward Orser of a history of Catonsville. He also published books on the evolution of the 1936 Flood Control Act, and the Army Corps of Engineers and its role in the Chesapeake Bay.

Dr. Arnold, who lived in Ellicott City, was an indefatigable researcher who loved nothing more than immersing himself in stacks of dusty old newspapers, microfilm, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, and ancient books with crumbling spines and musty paper.

"His study at home was the front living room. He also did lots of work in his office at school. It was far from orderly, but he could always find what he was looking for. The only thing orderly was his mind," said his wife of 44 years, the former Mary Jane Gilmour, a retired Rockville marketing executive.

"He was a historian who liked working with written sources. He had a knack for picking relevant details which gave him a larger perspective on events," said Mr. Orser, who wrote Catonsville, 1880-1940: From Village to Suburb with Dr. Arnold.

For nearly a decade, Dr. Arnold had been busily researching and writing a history of Baltimore encompassing 1729 to 2000.

"The 300- to 400-page book will be a comprehensive look at the city and a tribute to his life's work. He illustrated the history and broad contours of the city through its various historic figures, and his enormous research produced many great stories," said Robert J. Brugger, Johns Hopkins University Press history and regional editor.

"As an historian, I have always tried to avoid gazing into crystal balls and thus will make no attempt in my history to predict the future of the old city of Baltimore," Dr. Arnold wrote last year in an essay, "Thinking Big About a Big City: Baltimore 1729-1999," in the book From Mobtown to Charm City: New Perspectives on Baltimore's Past, published by the Maryland Historical Society.

"My goal is to present an accurate, unsentimental, but appreciative look at the people who have walked the streets of this city for 270 years, explaining, as best I can, how their actions created both the magnificent things we still enjoy today in Baltimore, and also contributed to the huge problems that inevitably arise when large numbers of very different people come together in such a large and complex place," he wrote.

"He was an incredible influence on younger scholars and had a great generosity of spirit. In my estimation, Joe Arnold was the dean of Baltimore historians," said Jessica Elfenbein, who teaches history at the University of Baltimore and was collaborating with him on the history of Baltimore.

Dr. Arnold was born in Chicago and raised in Wilmette, Ill. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from Denison University in 1959, and a master's in 1960 and his Ph.D. in 1968, both from Ohio State University.

He taught at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and Southern Connecticut State College before joining the UMBC faculty in 1968.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at UMBC's Kuhn Library, 1000 Hilltop Circle in Catonsville.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Arnold is survived by two sons, David M. Arnold of Ellicott City and Benjamin J. Arnold of Allentown, Pa.; a daughter, Elizabeth A. Sterbis of Diamondhead, Miss.; a brother, James Arnold of Tucson, Ariz.; and six grandchildren.

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Joseph Larkin Arnold: The date of death for Joseph Larkin Arnold, a longtime University of Maryland, Baltimore County history professor, was incorrectly stated in an obituary that appeared Jan. 9. He died Jan. 5. The Sun regrets the error.
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