Librarian and curator from 1959 to 1990 of the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, died peacefully on July 1, in Madison, Wisconsin, with family at his side. He was 87.
Hans was born January 30, 1926 in Berlin, Germany. There, he lived at 27a Tiergartenstrasse, an address made famous through Erik Larson’s book, “In the Garden of Beasts.” From 1933 until 1936, Hans’ father Alfred, a partner in a small investment bank, rented the first three floors of the family home to William Dodd, US ambassador to Germany, while keeping the upper floor for the Panofsky household.
By summer 1938, it was decided that Hans, age 12, and younger sister Ruth were no longer safe in Germany and were sent to England. Some months later, Hans’ parents and grandmother fled Germany, joining Hans and Ruth, and resettling as stateless refugees. In 1944 Hans enlisted in the British army to fight the Nazis.
Hans began his post-secondary education at the London School of Economics. There, socialist visionary Harold Laski became one of Hans’ most influential mentors. Also during this time, Hans first developed friendships with African students and a lifelong interest in Africa and Africanist scholarship was born. Hans accepted a position in Northwestern University’s fledgling Program of African Studies to work with Professor Melville Herskovits. Hans became Africana curator in the spring of 1959.
At Northwestern, Hans built the Africana collection with energy, vision and imagination. He is credited with having assembled the largest collection of printed materials on Africa in the world, drawing scholars to NU. Hans
also possessed an extremely useful skill: an uncanny ability, (long pre-internet) to connect people with other people, information and resources that were often obscure and otherwise unlikely links to be made.
In 1985, the African Studies Association honored Hans with its Distinguished Service Award. Hans’ scholarly contributions include a thesis on labor migration and the Ghanian economy; A Bibliography of Africana; chairing the Anthropology section of the American Library Association; and writing numerous reviews in scholarly journals. The Program of African Studies at Northwestern established the Hans E. Panofsky Pre-dissertation Research Award to support Northwestern graduate students planning to do fieldwork or archival research in Africa.
From 1962 until 2010, Hans and Gianna’s home at 1229 Judson Avenue became an oasis for Africanists, intellectuals, academics and friends; a place known for lively discourse, a home-cooked meal or a game of Briscola. Hans and Gianna shared a deep interest in social justice and were active in the civil and human rights movements. Hans volunteered with the local Amnesty International group and served on numerous boards, including Toward Freedom and the Chicago chapter of the NAACP.
Hans was preceded in death by his wife Gianna Sommi Panofsky and is survived by his sister Ruth (Panofsky) Barnett and brother-in-law Alan of Mill Valley, California and family; two sons, John Panofsky of Göteborg, Sweden, and David Panofsky of Madison, Wisconsin; daughters-in-law Helena Nyman Panofsky of Göteborg and Pat Smith of Madison; and four grandchildren, Sophia, Nora, Martin and Sylvie. A memorial celebration will be held on Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. at the Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road.