Melvin George Wiebe
BA., M.A.(Man.), Honorary Fellow, St. John's College (Man.)
Melvin George Wiebe was born in a driving blizzard in the Mennonite village of Lowe Farm at the stroke of midnight on Saturday 18 February 1939 in the house of his maternal grandparents. He is the eldest of five surviving children of George and Helena (Rempel) Wiebe (1896-1979 and 1914-1 999 respectively), both natives of the West Reserve of the Mennonite settlements of Southern Manitoba. He was raised on his parents' farm and had his primary education in the village school two miles distant. After completing high school at Lowe Farm High School, he came to the University of Manitoba intending to study Science. When, however, he fell under the influence of the charismatic English professor, Dr. John Matthews, he decided to study English at St. John's College, in due course obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1960 and his Master of Arts degree in 1962. From 1962 until 1965 he was enrolled in the doctoral program in English at the University of Toronto, but in 1965 left to accept a faculty appointment at Queen's University, where he has spent the whole of his professorial career. Over the course of his 39 years at Queen's, Professor Wiebe proved to be an outstanding teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students. His area of specialization has been Victorian literature, but he has also taught a wide range of other courses. Perhaps the one that best exemplifies his remarkable generosity with students is the graduate seminar he created to teach archival research and editing methods, where he encouraged generations of young scholars with hands-on experience in the resources of the Disraeli Project.
Professor Wiebe is now recognized as the world's foremost authority on the subject of Benjamin Disraeli's political and literary careers. And the publication of the Disraeli Letters (7 volumes to date from the University of Toronto Press), of which he has been the Senior and General Editor, constitutes one of the most significant scholarly achievements of the last century in the field of 19th-century political history. They also represent an unequalled contribution to biography and letters, more broadly defined, for the letters and their meticulous annotations are, indeed, a unique social history of both public and private life in Victorian England. The Disraeli Letters are repeatedly described by reviewers and assessors as the superb standard to which all such large editorial projects aspire. Northrop Frye described the Disraeli Project as one of the four outstanding Canadian humanist editorial contributions to world culture. Michael Foot, the former leader of the British Labour Party, has called the Letters "the best-edited and best annotated political letters in the language." Leading scholars of the Victorian period have echoed these assessments, one SSHRC grant assessor describing it as "one of the most enduring and magisterial, indeed definitive, scholarly editions undertaken anywhere." As such it is a permanent and foundational contribution to diverse fields, including politics, history, English literature, and Jewish studies. This renown has come about because of Professor Wiebe's impeccable editorial skills, his awe-inspiring erudition, his selfless dedication and his all-consuming intellectual passion for his subject. It has also depended on his great managerial abilities and on his very considerable powers of persuasion in keeping the Project funded by both private donors and granting councils. It is thus not surprising that in 2004 Professor Wiebe was awarded Queen's University's Prize for Excellence in Research. He is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished graduates of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Manitoba and a most worthy recipient of an honorary degree from his alma mater.
-citation delivered by Dr. Robert O'Kell, Professor of English and Dean Emeritus of Arts, Faculty of Arts