J.D. (John) Marshall, 1919-2008.

August 21, 2008

J.D. (John) Marshall, 1919-2008.

A "hardy frontiersman" of academia who developed a passion for regional history while based in Cumbria as a Second World War conscientious objector has died.

J.D. (John) Marshall, who spent the bulk of his career at Lancaster University, was described by a former colleague as an unorthodox academic who wanted to connect with the public rather than restrict himself to an ivory tower.

Oliver Westall, now MBA director at Lancaster, said: "He liked to take on new projects, new ideas and new frameworks. He was always breaking new ground; he was very early into new fields of study such as urban history, oral history and industrial archaeology, but the field he really got embedded in was regional history.

"He was a man of great pragmatic intelligence and was able to see how those new areas would make history much more vivid both for academics and for the public as they were actually dealing with things people cared about."

Dr Marshall grew up in the Midlands, leaving school at 16 and working as a local newspaper journalist and debt collector before the Second World War.

As a left-wing conscientious objector during the early years of the war, he was sent to Cumbria to work for the Forestry Commission, where he became involved in the Communist Party in Barrow.

Mr Westall said this was "a kind of epiphany" for Dr Marshall, sparking a passionate engagement with the political Left and with Cumbria. "He began to form a clear view that his vocation in life was to explain to the working classes of Barrow how Barrow had come to be how it was.

"That was an expression of his great passion for the area and its people, and however much he became an academic - and he was never the most orthodox of academics - you could never escape from the feeling that he had a deep need to give back to the people of Barrow and Cumbria an understanding of the history that made them," he said.

Towards the end of the war, Dr Marshall volunteered for the Royal Army Signal Corps as a radio operator. In the late 1940s, he went to the University of Nottingham to study economic history, completing a PhD at London University in 1958.

He taught history of science and technology at Bolton Training College, among other institutions, before being appointed as a lecturer at Lancaster in 1966.

There, he helped to develop a new history department and became a reader in North West regional history. He also founded the cross-disciplinary centre for North West regional studies in the 1970s, before taking early retirement on medical grounds in 1980. He remained, said Mr Westall, a radical all his life, "a sharp-eyed sniper at power and privilege to the end". He died on 20 May, aged 89, and is survived by his three children.


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