In Memoriam: Doyce B. Nunis Jr., 86

Respected historian and longtime faculty member of USC College’s Department of History, Nunis chronicled local history as editor of Southern California Quarterly, the journal of the Historical Society of Southern California.
Michelle Salzman

Doyce Nunis Jr., professor emeritus of history at USC College and historian of early California history, died Jan. 22 at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center from complications after abdominal surgery. He was 86.

Nunis was born in Cedartown, Ga., on May 30, 1924. After serving in the Navy, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1947 and several years later earned a master’s degree in education and a doctorate in history from USC.

He began his career as a lecturer in the 1950s. He taught and was a research historian at UCLA before joining USC in the mid-1960s where he was a longtime and honored member of the university’s history department. He was the recipient of many accolades including the USC Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Professor Nunis was a leading figure in early California history, especially the Spanish and Mexican periods,” said William Deverell, a professor of history at USC College who knew Nunis for many years.

“His work was marked by an energetic commitment to a wide range of activities: running a journal, teaching, and putting out an array of important publications. His bibliographic work alone, on the history of Los Angeles, is a milestone. USC’s long had a distinguished academic tradition of investigating the complex history of Southern California, dating way back to the days of Emory Bogardus and Rockwell Hunt, and Professor Nunis surely earned an honored place in that pantheon,” said Deverell, who is also director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

Nunis began working with the Historical Society of Southern California in 1962, where he was editor of the organization’s journal Southern California Quarterly for 43 years. Nunis retired as editor of the journal in 2005.

“We do not put a space limit on articles — the important thing is to serve the cause of history,” he told the Los Angeles Times about Southern California Quarterly in 1996. “History is like an artist standing before a canvas — every little bit you fill in helps, every article fits into the mosaic eventually.”

Patricia Adler-Ingram, executive director of the Historical Society of Southern California, and one of Nunis’ former doctoral students, recalled that her adviser’s research techniques were rigorous and precise.

“He was truly a great professor,” Adler-Ingram said.

As a Guggenheim Fellow in 1964, Nunis traveled to London to study documents of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which he drew upon to write his first book, Andrew Sublette, Rocky Mountain Prince, 1808-1835. In all, he authored more than 70 articles and wrote or edited over 40 books.