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UC Berkeley professor emeritus and noted economic historian Carlo Cipolla dies in Italy following long illness
13 Sep 2000

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

NOTE: A memorial service will be held on Sunday, November 19 at 4 pm in the Seaborg Room of the Faculty Club at UC Berkeley.

Berkeley - Carlo M. Cipolla, professor emeritus in the University of California, Berkeley economics department and a prolific author on economic history, died Sept. 5 in Pavia, Italy, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 78.

Cipolla began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959 and also taught at Italian universities, including the European Institute in Florence and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.

"Cipolla was a leading economic historian of his generation," said Jan de Vries, the Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History and Economics at UC Berkeley and Cipolla's colleague for many years.

"Trained in Europe after World War II, he was very much a scholar of the 'old school'..." said de Vries, who also is vice provost at UC Berkeley for academic affairs and faculty welfare. "...Carlo's scholarly output was enormous in volume, and much of it was pathbreaking. He opened up several topics that would occupy dozens of scholars in later years. However, he was so much the gentleman that his scholarship seemed to come effortlessly to him."

For more than 30 years, Cipolla and his wife commuted between continents, generally spending summer and fall in Berkeley and spring and summer in Pavia, Italy, where he was born. Cipolla retired in 1991 from UC Berkeley, where he worked in the College of Letters and Science.

He was said to have inspired many students to explore the subjects of economic and monetary history, as well as the history of medicine and public health. The author of more than 20 books, Cipolla is well known to specialists for his studies in medieval and early modern Italy and to a wider audience for his contributions to economic and social history. He also wrote a humorous treatise, "The Basic Laws of Stupidity," which was a national bestseller in Italy and was produced as a play in France.

"He was a humanist as well as an historian and an extremely good researcher," said Charles Muscatine, a professor emeritus in UC Berkeley's English department and one of Cipolla's longtime friends. "He was an absolutely charming, generous, humorous, interesting person and a marvelous guide to the sites and sounds of Italy."

Greg Grossman, a professor emeritus of economics at UC Berkeley, said Cipolla's wide interests could be seen in his impressive collections of ancient coins, old clocks, 18th century Italian paintings and Roman surgical instruments.

"For many years, he wrote books at the rate of one a year, many on subjects that were ahead of their time," said de Vries. "Before demographic history became a major area of research, he wrote his 'Population History of Europe.' Before the study of literacy took off, he wrote a book on the subject; before the problem of economic crisis and decline caught the attention of scholars, he had a volume on economic decline in comparative perspective."

Cipolla later turned to the study of disease and its social-economic consequences and, in a series of books, explored how 17th century Italians dealt with outbreaks of bubonic plague, de Vries said.

Cipolla was a member of the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain, the British Academy, the Accademia dei Lincei, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He was awarded the Premio della Presidente della Republica in Italy, and the Premio Balzan, as well as honorary degrees in Italy and Zurich, Switzerland.

Cipolla is survived by his wife of 30 years, Ora Cipolla, of Rossmoor, Calif., and Pavia, Italy; his stepdaughters, Tanya Gregory of Florence, Italy, and Alexa Gregory of Lafayette, Calif.; two grandchildren; and a brother, Manlio, of Milan, Italy.

Services were held Sept. 8 in Italy. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, November 19 at 4 pm in the Seaborg Room of the Faculty Club at UC Berkeley.