Jonathan Porter, Professor Emeritus of Chinese History and Asian Studies at the University of New Mexico, died peacefully at his home on March 26, 2024, in Chupadero, N.M., after surviving more than two decades with metastatic prostate cancer. He was 86.

Porter was born on March 25, 1938, in Boston, Mass. to Eliot Furness Porter and Aline Kilham. In 1946, he moved to Tesuque, N.M. where he spent most of his life. 

Jonathan Porter Memorial service...

  • Sunday, June 23 at 10 a.m. at the Porter Best family home
  • 65A Don Filomeno, Santa Fe, N.M. 

Porter attended Harrington Junior High in Santa Fe for one year before transferring to The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. Following family tradition, he attended Harvard University, Lowell House, and received his A.B. in Astronomy in 1960. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he was introduced to Asian and Chinese intellectual history. He was captivated by the narration of China in the nineteenth century, the fascinating juxtaposition of a complex civilization and its decay.

Porter would always remember the encouragement and support of his parents in his academic endeavors, particularly when he abandoned the promise of astronomy for history just after Sputnik seemed to open new doors. Yearning to return west, Porter began his graduate research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, completing his M.A. in Chinese History in 1963, then on to advanced graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, earning his Ph.D. in Chinese History in 1971. His doctoral program from 1967 to 1969 included two years of immersive Chinese language study and research in Taiwan.

Jonathan Porter obit.

Porter chose to return to N.M. and accept an offer at The University of New Mexico where from 1969 to 2011 he taught Chinese, Japanese, and Asian history, as well as a graduate seminar on historical evidence methods. He was a scholar, teacher, mentor, and administrator for 42 years serving as History Department Chair, President of the Faculty Senate, and Director of the Asian Studies Program. He taught undergraduate courses on Traditional China and Revolutionary China, but it was his course on Imperial China that represented the core of his scholarly research interest, which intersected with the social history of Chinese science. He was a noted expert on Macau and fluent in Portuguese, authoring four books and seventeen articles on the history of China and Macau. In 1980 and ’81 he arranged two extensive trips to China with his father that resulted in their collaborative book of text and photographs All Under Heaven: The Chinese World. In retirement, he continued to learn from his students, many of whom were the first in their families to graduate from college. For more than sixty years, he wrote letters of recommendation for UNM students who went on to serve in our nation’s military, diplomatic, and intelligence communities worldwide.

Outside of academia, Porter was a skilled autocross racer, a self-taught auto mechanic for vintage British cars, and an avid walker, hiking every day in the nearby mesas with his devoted dogs. He loved animals and often felt more comfortable in their company than humans. In 2007, Porter and his partner Paige moved to Chupadero with their family of rescue horses, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, and a venerable Mexican desert tortoise named Ethel. They loved traveling together throughout Africa, to meet and listen to African-led conservation programs funded by the African Wildlife Foundation that they supported.

Porter deeply loved every member of his large, extended family from California to Maine, and dear friends and esteemed colleagues throughout Asia and Africa.

He is survived by his beloved partner Paige Best; brother Stephen Porter (Marcie Porter) of Searsmont, Maine; brother Patrick Porter (April Fair) of Tesuque, N.M.; nephew Matt Porter (Hannah Whitaker) and grandnephew Enzo of Brooklyn, N.Y.; nephew Will Porter (Taylor Porter) and grandnieces Eliza Porter and Beatrice of Chestertown, Md.; half-brother Charles Porter of Granby, Conn.; and his first love, George (劉文雄) of Taipei, Taiwan.

He was preceded in death by his first wife Zoe Barter Porter; second wife Maxine Armstrong Porter; and his half-brother Eliot Porter, Jr.

Deep gratitude to the wonderful Ambercare hospice nurses for their wisdom and compassion: Lynn, Donna, Jeanie, and Michelle who came daily to the home to care for Porter in his final week.

The family is thankful to the Chupadero community for their abiding love and support.

Appreciation to Amber and the dedicated team at Rivera Funeral Home in Española and Rio Grande Crematory in Los Alamos for upholding the dignity of all who pass away in Northern New Mexico.

Jonathan Porter’s memorial service will be on Sunday, June 23, 2024, at the Porter Best family home (65A Don Filomeno, Santa Fe, NM 87506) at 10 a.m. in Chupadero.