Asa Briggs, 1921-2016

From the BBC:

Historian Lord Asa Briggs dies, aged 94

Lord Asa Briggs, a leading historian and pioneer of adult education, has died at the age of 94.

He had an “extraordinary life” and died peacefully at home in Lewes, East Sussex, son-in-law Philip Preston said.

Lord Briggs worked at the Bletchley Park code-breaking station during World War Two, and later helped establish the Open University and Sussex University.

Sussex’s vice-chancellor, Prof Michael Farthing, called Lord Briggs a “visionary and a dear friend”.

Prof Farthing, who was with Lord Briggs and his family when he died, said he would “miss him terribly”.

“He had a huge breadth in his life and he contributed to an enormous number of different universities, different ideas to his discipline of history, and on a much wider scale to higher education in general,” he said.

Lord Briggs, who was born in Keighley, Yorkshire, and attended Cambridge University, received a call in 1943 to join British intelligence at Bletchley Park – the base from which Germany’s Enigma code was deciphered.

After the war he returned to his academic interests, becoming an expert in the Victorian period and writing several books during a career at universities including Oxford and Princeton.

His five volumes on the history of broadcasting in the UK was often described as the unofficial history of the BBC.

BBC director general Tony Hall said Lord Briggs’s “great gift to the BBC was the insightful and illuminating histories he wrote about the corporation, which set the highest bar for all media histories to follow”.

The vice-chancellor of the Open University, Peter Horrocks, said Lord Briggs was a “towering figure in education, influencing the development of new universities in Britain and abroad”.

Lord Briggs was made a life peer in 1976 and sat as a crossbencher.

Forrest Macdonald, 1927-2016

From the New York Times:

Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He was 89…

As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. (“I’d move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia,” he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.

His becoming an avowed conservative, one colleague suggested, was prompted by the liberal backlash to his early research, which cast Wisconsin’s public utility companies in a favorable light and repudiated Charles A. Beard’s theory that the Constitution was framed to preserve the personal wealth of a ruling elite.

In his book “The American Presidency: An Intellectual History,” published in 1994, Dr. McDonald concluded that “the caliber of the people who have served as chief executive has declined erratically but persistently from the day George Washington left office.”

But he added a caveat: “The presidency has been responsible for less harm and more good, in the nation and in the world, than perhaps any other secular institution in history.”

Jenny Wormald, 1942-2015

From the website of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford:

It is with sadness that we share the news that Jenny Wormald died peacefully on 9th December 2015. Jenny was Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at St Hilda’s for twenty years (1985-2005), during which time she served also as Fellow Librarian and Senior Tutor. She was a highly respected and much loved friend, colleague, scholar, and tutor. She will be greatly missed.  A memorial event will be planned to take place in 2016.

Lisa Jardine, 1944-2015

Sad news: Lisa Jardine, author of Ingenious Pursuits and Worldly Goods, has died at the age of 71. From the Guardian:

The celebrated historian and author professor Lisa Jardine has died aged 71.

Jardine was known for her research into the early modern period and, in the later part of her career, she worked as a professor of renaissance studies at University College London (UCL). She was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Society this year and won its prestigious medal for popularising science, as well as being awarded a CBE.

Jardine’s friend and UCL colleague Prof Melissa Terras called her an “astonishing scholar” and said she would be missed. Jardine was “immensely supportive of colleagues and the causes she cared about, passionate about equality, an effortless communicator and had a vital energy that encouraged and galvanised those around her”, said Terras.

“I only knew Lisa for the past three years, but she became a friend as well as a colleague,” said Terras. “Her research team was family to her, and she will be sorely missed by the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, UCL, and the wider scholarly community.”

Robert Conquest, 1917-2015

Another great historian has passed. The Telegraph:

Robert Conquest, the writer on Soviet Russia who has died aged 98, was a polemicist and a serious, published poet; but above all he was an historian, one of the outstanding scholars of his time, whose books did as much as any other man’s to alter our view of the communist experience.

Conquest personified the truth that there was no anti-communist so dedicated as an ex-communist. His career illustrated also what the Italian writer Ignazio Silone, another former communist, meant when he said to the communist leader Palmiro Togliatti that “the final battle” of the 20th century would have to be fought between the two sides they represented.

An ardent Bolshevik as a young man, Conquest became a bitter foe of Soviet “Socialism”. He had first visited Russia in 1937 as a youthful devotee of the great experiment. It was a half century before he returned in 1989, having spent his life between chronicling the horrors the country had endured, and emerging, in the view of the Oxford historian Mark Almond, as “one of the few Western heroes of the collapse of Soviet Communism”. “He was Solzhenitsyn before Solzhenitsyn,” said Timothy Garton Ash.

Of his many works on the subject, perhaps the most important was The Great Terror, published in 1968 and detailing the full enormity of what Stalin had done to the Russian people in the 1930s and 1940s. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz paid the most succinct tribute to this book when he said in 1972 that The Great Terror had “closed the debate” about Stalinism.

Peter Gay, 1923-2015

From the New York Times:

***

Peter Gay, Historian Who Explored Social History of Ideas, Dies at 91

MAY 12, 2015

Peter Gay, a German-born historian whose sense of intellectual adventure led him to write groundbreaking books on the Enlightenment, the Victorian middle classes, Sigmund Freud, Weimar culture and the cultural situation of Jews in Germany, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by his stepdaughter Elizabeth Glazer.

Mr. Gay, a refugee from Nazi Germany, devoted his career to exploring the social history of ideas, a quest that took him far from his original area of specialization, Voltaire and the Enlightenment. “He is one of the major American historians of European thought, period,” said Sander L. Gilman, a cultural and literary historian at Emory University.

It was his work on the 18th century that sealed Mr. Gay’s reputation as one of the pre-eminent historians of his generation. “Voltaire’s Politics,” published in 1959, was followed by “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation,” a monumental two-part study whose first volume, subtitled “The Rise of Modern Paganism,” won the National Book Award in 1967. The second volume, subtitled “The Science of Freedom,” was published in 1969.

“That is the last great work to provide a synthetic account of the philosophes and their world,” said Margaret Jacob, a professor of history at U.C.L.A. “It was canonical. He just had an encyclopedic grasp of the subject.”

A longstanding interest in Freud’s ideas led Mr. Gay to train at the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis and motivated him to write a revisionist psychohistory of the Victorian middle classes, “The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud,” whose five volumes were published in the 1980s. He also wrote the acclaimed “Sigmund Freud: A Life for Our Time” (1988), the first substantial Freud biography since Ernest Jones’s three-volume one in the 1950s.

Freud and Mr. Gay were both assimilated, nonreligious Jews nourished by and trapped in a Germanic culture whose anti-Semitic undercurrents gathered strength around them. Their shared predicament provoked some of Mr. Gay’s most personal and anguished historical writing, notably the essays in “Freud, Jews and Other Germans” (1978) and the autobiographical “My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin” (1998).

***

More at the link.