John came to SFU’s History Department in 1966, shortly after finishing his PhD at the University of London. His dissertation was on the Union of 17 October, better known as the Russian Octobrist movement of 1905. John was hired as a Russian historian, and his first book, Politics and Public Health in Revolutionary Russia, 1890-1918, reflected this. John developed a keen interest in medical history and public policy simultaneously. This led to the creation of perhaps his best-loved course, Poverty, Crime, and Madness. He was an active graduate student supervisor, and 19 students completed MAs or PhDs with John. At the same time, he sat on virtually every committee in the History department, and several university committees.
Over time, his research interest shifted away from Russian history to the history of medicine and led to his 1996 book, Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross. Champions of Charity was a dynamic and theoretically informed social and political history of the early years of the Red Cross, where John argued, controversially, that while the Red Cross set out to make war more humane, it soon became an enthusiastic promoter of militarism and sacrifice in time of war. The book was awarded the Jason A. Hannah Medal for Excellence in the History of Medicine and the Wallace K. Ferguson prize of the Canadian Historical Association, and was short listed for the Lionel Gelber Prize in international relations.
After that success, John returned briefly to Russian history to write a textbook, Late Imperial Russia, 1890-1917, then began work on a book with the working title Managing Misfortune: Humanitarian Initiatives in Peace and War. This work, however, was cut short by John’s sudden and unexpected death in May 2002.