Steven Botterill
1958 - 2018
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Steven Botterill

February 10, 1958 - May 5, 2018

Steven Botterill, Professor of Italian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, renowned Dante scholar, dedicated teacher, and caring friend, passed away at the age of 60 on May 5, 2018, with his beloved husband, Craig Davidson, at his side.

Steven Botterill was born on February 10, 1958, in Shoreham by Sea, England, the only child of Jeanne and Peter Botterill, both now deceased. The first member of his family to receive a University degree, he took his B.A. and M.A. in Modern and Medieval Literature at Cambridge University, and during this time spent a year of study at the illustrious University of Pavia, where he confirmed what would become a life-long dedication to Italian language, literature, and culture. In 1984, he took his Ph.D. in Italian from Queen's College, Cambridge University, studying under the eminent Dantista, Patrick Boyde. In 1986, Steven left his native land to assume the role of Assistant Professor of Italian at UC Berkeley, where he would then be tenured and promoted. His seminal study "Dante and the Mystical Tradition: Bernard of Clairvaux" in the "Commedia" was published by Cambridge University Press in 1994, to wide critical acclaim. It remains the standard work on this important subject to this day. In 1996 he published his elegant and learned translation with introduction of Dante's remarkable treatise in defense of the vernacular, De Vulgari Eloquentia, an edition that has become the standard in English-language classrooms. He also authored some 27 scholarly articles and well over 100 reviews, notable for their deep learning, incisive criticism and elegant style. He also gave some 100 public performances—both scholarly lectures and talks for the general public—in North America, Britain, Ireland, and Italy. And he was among the pioneers in the field of queer studies in the Italian context. He was widely admired both for his brilliant scholarship, and for the extraordinary eloquence and piercing wit that informed his writing, speaking, and teaching alike.

Just as significant as his scholarship was his profound commitment to the teaching profession and to the institution that was his home for more than 30 years. He was an admired colleague and dear friend to his fellow Italianists and many others at Cal. In particular, he served two terms as Chair of the Italian Studies Department, both at critical moments of transition. He also served as Director of the Graduate Program in Romance Languages and Literatures and was an active presence in the Medieval Studies Program. His teaching, in both English- and Italian-language classes, ranged from Freshman seminars, through lower and upper division undergraduate courses, to graduate seminars—and at all levels he inspired devotion among his students. His courses covered the spectrum of Italian literature and culture in the Medieval and Renaissance epochs, with occasional forays into the Romantic period, modern poetry, the works of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and queer studies. His seminars on Dante and Boccaccio were especially popular with graduate students, and gave rise to a number of dissertations.

His deep attachment to the students of Cal expressed itself in many other ways as well: in service as both undergraduate and graduate adviser in Italian Studies, as member of numerous campus and external fellowship and scholars program committees, as Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Advising and for six years as Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Division in the College of Letters and Sciences. Most recently he had shown his profound engagement with and commitment to education abroad, in particular serving for two years as Director of the UC Study Abroad Programs in Italy. During these two years (2015-2017) he and Craig, his partner and husband of 26 years, were able to realize their dream of immersing themselves together in the culture of Italy, and of sharing that joy widely with others. For co-workers, students, and his many friends, Steven Botterill was an imposing and memorable presence. We join with Craig in mourning his untimely passing.

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Published in San Francisco Chronicle from May 16 to May 20, 2018.
Memories & Condolences
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29 entries
December 1, 2020
I never knew Dr. Steven Botterill outside of his capacity as the Dean of L&S. We met only once, in the spring of 2015, when I came with an appeal to increase my unit cap. I was in my fourth year at Cal and realized I couldn't leave without taking advantage of study abroad. I wanted to fulfill a teenage dream of mine to visit and study in Paris.

It was an ordinary spring afternoon when I entered his office. He was incredibly warm and welcoming. I was nervous as I made my appeal for one extra semester but as soon as I stated that my reason was based on learning the french language his face lit up. I remember him telling me that studying abroad in the pursuit of learning a foreign language was the pinnacle of what education was all about and he was more than happy to approve my appeal. We spoke a little about how long I had been learning French and I learned about his then-new role as Director of the UC Study Abroad program in Italy. I'm sure I said thank you at the time but I want to reiterate once again, thank you Dr. Botterill for approving my appeal and for instilling the desire to immerse myself into another culture, language and country. Because of his decision, I went on to study for a semester at Sciences Po, Paris. Two years after graduating from Cal I moved to Paris in 2018 and I'm now a graduate student.

Thank you Dr. Botterill. I wish you eternal peace. You've made an impact on so many people.
October 27, 2020
I met Steven shortly after he came to Berkeley through a mutual friend, John Harris, then a student in the classics. The three of us were the best of friends, bonding with laughter and Steven and I stayed close when John left for L.A. As I worked on campus too, Steven and I would frequently meet for lunch and go see films and plays. Although I most remember his quick sense of humor, he was also a very sensitive listener whenever I was going
through a difficult time. I recently came across a photo of Steven, John and myself at one of my birthday parties. I googled Steven and was sad to read of his death and I wish I had details of it. I cherish his memory
Paul Shepard
June 13, 2020
I have just, almost by accident, come across news of Steven's death. He taught me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and he was a research fellow at Queens with a suite of rooms overlooking the Cam. I liked him enormously, and on more than one occasion he invited me to dine in college with him. We managed a bottle of wine each on those occasions (very much at the limits of my tolerance even then). It's a bit shocking to read that he has gone: he was only a few years older than me. An untimely passing.
August 29, 2019
I was at school with Steven. It was a selective school and most of us went on to university at a time when only about 7% of the general population did so. Even among such people, Steve stood out as quite exceptionally able. He had an extraordinarily wide range of knowledge even as a teenager, so it was no surprise that he went on to Cambridge, and to great academic success.
Like Steven, I was the first in my family to go to university, and my life has been shaped by the opportunities which were opened up by education.
Although I briefly made contact with Steven on Friends Reunited some years ago, it is sad to think that this will not be possible in future - our cohort is dwindling! While I am sad at his passing, it is good to read about a life well-lived, combining professional success with happiness in his personal life.
Mark Bush
May 26, 2019
John Walker
May 26, 2019
John Walker
March 14, 2019
I'm terribly sorry to hear of Steven's passing. I had the pleasure of meeting Steven on my first trip to San Francisco in 2011. I will never forget the time I spent with him. We had plenty of talks about literature and teaching. I returned to San Francisco in 2015 but was unable to connect with Steve. I will miss him. I know from our talks how much he loved Craig. Craig, if you're reading, I hope I can connect with you to share more of how amazing Steve was.
Riz Khan
September 25, 2018
Via the latest Gifts to Queens' issue I learned of Steven's passing. You and I do not know each other, Craig, but I can only vaguely imagine how huge a hole Steven has left: as Queens' freshmen, we made our first outing to Heffers bookshop together, me assuming I was as clever as anybody and cleverer than most. As Steven mentioned in passing that the obscure French term I had pompously slipped into our conversation was of 16th-century origin, I sensed I was standing in an enormous shadow. Steven also attended the same Worthing school as my girlfriend of student days, Jo White (Trinity Hall), and I am sure she shares the sympathy I feel for his nearest and dearest. Peace be yours always.
Bill Soutter
September 15, 2018
I was another of the small band of modern linguists who started at Queens' College, Cambridge in 1977. We took different paths which subsequently never crossed, but I still have a vivid memory of his great intellect, quiet humour and wry smile. I'm terribly sad to learn of his loss to the world, on which he made such a great and enduring impact. I offer my deepest condolences to Craig and to all whose lives he brightened.
Simon Airey
September 5, 2018
I knew Steven at Queens' in 1977-79. He was then and remains the most intelligent person I have ever met. He was also a loyal friend with a great sense of humour. My condolences to Craig and his new friends in California.
Simon Johnson
August 31, 2018
Rest in peace, dear Steven Botterill. I met you when you came on board at the University of California at Berkeley and just learned of your untimely passing. What a wonderful human being and scholar, a loss to the intellectual community. I wish I had gotten to know you better before I left the Department of Italian here on the UC Berkeley campus.
Susan Aberg
July 24, 2018
I am shocked to hear about Steven's untimely death. I was a classmate of Steven's in Worthing Enland in the early 70s and although my interests were more sporting than academic I felt that we were good friends. We shared an interest in languages - though his prowess far outstripped mine. The one time and only time I tried top copy his answers in a French test as I simply hadn't done the homework was also the one and only time he hadn't done it either!

Although our subsequent paths were very different we had exchanged emails over the years. I am due on a short trip to Berlin, where I've not been since a school trip with Steven 40 plus years ago, and I was hoping to contact him again to swap reminisces especially of the night we all went to see The Magic Flute, an evening which, I know, kindled his life long love of opera.

Please accept my condolences Craig. My thoughts are with you and everybody who knew and loved Steven.

Simon Wagstaff
Simon Wagstaff
July 1, 2018
I was shocked and saddened to learn suddenly of the death of Steven Botterill, who had been a dear friend and colleague since our time at Cambridge together over thirty years ago. Steven was not only an outstanding scholar and teacher but also a person of courage, integrity and laughter who lived both his personal and professional life with the utmost honesty. I well remember our last meeting when I had the privilege of his and Craig's hospitality when I was on a research visit to the US in 2010. We often used to joke that he was the real scholar and I the mixed up eccentric from England, but his stature as a person meant that never really mattered. Goodbye Steve and may you rest in peace and rise in Glory
John Walker
June 3, 2018
I worked with Steven during his time as Associate Dean for the Undergraduate Division. During our weekly meetings, Steven always went out of his way to make me laugh. I will miss his astute and wry observations about life at UC. Reading anything that Steven wrote even on the most mundane administrative topicleft me in awe of his eloquence and humanity. I will miss his kindness and gentle spirit.

My heart goes out to Craig at this difficult time.

Jean Delaney
May 23, 2018
I took a class with Professor Botterill last fall, and I remember his great sense of humor and his insightful comments on my writing. He was very kind and always wanted to make sure we students got the most out of the class. I especially enjoyed the last week when we watched adaptations of Dante's Inferno on VHS, what he called a medium from another era. I know he will be missed.
May 22, 2018
I took a seminar with Professor Botterill my first semester at UC Berkeley. It was an incredibly unique educational experience, and I remember Professor Botterill frequently offering himself up as a resource to the class of mostly brand new students. Sincerest condolences to his family, he will be missed.
May 21, 2018
The joy that Professor Botterill brought to our every class made it one of the most fulfilling of any that I had the privilege to take at UC Berkeley. Despite everything that was going on this last year, he still came to every class to share with us the wonder of Dante's Inferno. He was one of my favorite professors, and will be dearly missed.
Imad Pasha
May 21, 2018
Dear Craig:
With deepest sympathy to you and gratitude to Stephen for his kindness and generosity over many years. I will never forget that seminar on Dante's minor works in his first year at Berkeley and the fact that he was so helpful over the years in any Dante bibliographical question. He always knew where to direct me. And when he came to Davis to talk to my Dante students, they were always thrilled with his knowledge, enthusiasm, and affection for his favorite poet.
Brenda (and Bob)
Brenda Schildgen
May 21, 2018
Professor Botterill was one of the best professors I have ever had. He introduced me to the complexities of Dante and was a funny, thoughtful, insightful man. I and all others who have taken classes with Professor Botterill will miss him quite dearly.
Ajay Kumar Raja
May 21, 2018
Professor Botterill was my first Professor at Cal and he was one of the best professors I've ever had. He always made an effort to get to know his students, made us think critically, and taught us a lot about Dante's work. I'm really sorry to hear about his passing. I hope he rests in peace.
Meghna Dasgupta
May 21, 2018
Sincerest condolences from Lilya and me; Steven's passing is a huge loss for Italian studies, of course, but our hearts go out to everyone who knew him as a person, and especially to Craig.
Rob Rushing
May 21, 2018
I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of Steven Botterill. I worked very closely with Steven for the last 17 years. Steven served as the chair of my prestigious scholarships committee at Berkeley during that time. He was always ready to help me if I needed him at a moments notice and listened if I needed someone with whom to confide. However, as the years passed Steven became one of my biggest supporters, my champion at times, and my friend. I will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers go out to Craig.
Alicia Hayes
May 21, 2018
Meeting Steven and Craig ten years ago enriched my life. They made my time in the USA memorable and made me feel welcome. Last year they welcomed me again in Italy and looked after me. Steven was an amazing man and the world has lost a truly good bloke. I'm going to miss Steven and my heart and love go out to Craig. I love you both x
Monique Galloway
May 21, 2018
What a beautiful tribute to Steven. The only thing to add is his unfailing kindness to colleagues; Steven knew how to make everyone feel that their contribution was valuable and valued. A marvelous man in mind and heart: unforgettable. Love to Craig in this hardest of times.
Gina Psaki
May 20, 2018
A dear neighbor for the past 20 years, Steven, I will miss you every time I pass your door.
Phyllis Brooks Schafer
May 20, 2018
Dear Craig -- and all who loved Stephen:
I'm deeply stunned and saddened to hear of Stephen's passing. He is still vibrantly alive, impassioned and incredibly funny in my mind. I was SNB's first Dean's Assistant in L&S Advising, training him in the role and then supporting his decisions through to implementation. We worked closely and well, laughing, crying and learning together for over 10 years

I recommended his Ug courses to many, many students -- and heard back from a good number that his readings in Italian left them "blown away". I am certain he inspired hundreds to at least continue in Italian Studies, if not to take the minor or major.

Please also recall that SNB "starred" in a video for the L&S Undergraduate Division describing and supporting the Liberal Arts at Cal. We showed that video to thousands and thousands of newly-admitted students in our orientation sessions, hosted it on our website, exported it to international students unable to attend in person, and enjoyed ourselves as staff -- never had we had such an eloquent spokesperson for the joy of learning, the value of a humanist education, and the wildly unbounded opportunity to study at UC Berkeley.

I offer my deepest condolences, Craig, and hope you are doing reasonably ok at this difficult time. Much love and light to you and your supporting community....
Nancy Finkle
May 20, 2018
I will miss you forever my sweet husband.
Craig Davidson
May 19, 2018
I am so sorry for your loss. May you receive strength from God. "He will make you firm, he will make you strong, he will firmly ground you." - 1Pe 5:10
May 18, 2018
My sincerest condolences to your family during this time of grief. Please find comfort in the verses at Jeremiah 29: 11-13
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