September 14, 2020

Dear Members of Our Campus Community,

I regrettably must share the sad news that Dr. Donald Barton Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Russian and Slavic Studies, recently passed away. He was a preeminent scholar on Vladimir Nabokov and an active researcher, as well as a dedicated teacher and mentor. Dr. Johnson published seminal works during his time on our campus, and we are indebted to him for a rich set of documents in our library donated through his own generosity. Our campus flag will be lowered in his honor on September 30th. 

Chair Sara Pankenier Weld and our Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies prepared the following remembrance of his life and many accomplishments, which I am honored to share.


Dr. Donald Barton Johnson (1933-2020)

It is with great sadness that I report, on behalf of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, the passing of Professor Emeritus Donald Barton Johnson. Donald Barton Johnson, who went by the name Don, and published scholarship under the name D. Barton Johnson, was a Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies for 25 years, before retiring in 1991.

Don passed away peacefully at Villa Alamar in Santa Barbara on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, after having been in declining health for some time. Don is survived by his widow Sheila Johnson, and also by his stepdaughter Jessica Dora and his stepson Aaron Moody, his wife Rebecca Vidra, and their three daughters Lili, Chloe, and Véla.

Donald Barton Johnson was born on June 15, 1933. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966 and joined the University of California, Santa Barbara that same year, as an Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Linguistics. He received tenure in 1971 and was promoted to Full Professor in 1980.

Don was a prominent figure in Slavic Studies and renowned within research communities devoted to the study of Russian writers Vladimir Nabokov and Sasha Sokolov. He was the author of several books, including the groundbreaking study Worlds in Regression: Some Novels of Vladimir Nabokov (1985), and numerous chapters and articles on Nabokov and Sokolov. He played an early and leading role in Nabokov studies and served twice as the president of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society. He also created NABOKV-L, an electronic Nabokov discussion forum based out of UCSB, which he launched in 1993, the same year he founded the annual print journal Nabokov Studies, which now awards the Donald Barton Johnson Prize in his name for the best essay in Nabokov studies. In addition to Nabokov studies, Johnson was influential in his research on Sokolov and compiled many biographical materials and conducted interviews with the author.

Thanks to Don and his scholarly generosity, UCSB has extensive archival and research materials related to Nabokov and Sokolov at Davidson Library and Special Research Collections, including the Donald Barton Johnson Papers. In February of 2016, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara arranged a Nabokov symposium, exhibit, and performance in Don’s honor, which Don attended and appreciated very much. The Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies will continue to honor Don’s memory with the D. Barton Johnson Award, which awards the best critical scholarly essay by a student on Russian, East European, or Eurasian literature, art, and culture, and was founded in 2017 with a gift from an anonymous donor.

Don will be remembered for his rigorous and insightful scholarship, whose meticulousness and ingenuity evoke both his past work doing wartime cryptography and deep linguistic expertise, as well as for his clever stories, wit, and enthusiasm for birdwatching in Santa Barbara and hiking near his home in Mission Canyon.


Henry T. Yang