Sabine Wichert, 1942-2014

An academic and greatly respected poet who spent more than 35 years in the School of History at Queen’s University Belfast has died

October 16, 2014

Sabine Wichert, a senior lecturer and scholar of 20th-century British foreign policy, was a popular figure on campus between 1971 and her retirement in 2007, and published acclaimed volumes of verse including Tin Drum Country (1994) and Sharing Darwin (1999).

Her 1991 book Northern Ireland since 1945, a study of the province as it evolved from the introduction of the welfare state to the relatively prosperous 1960s, is still considered a standard text on the period. She edited From the United Irishmen to Twentieth-century Unionism: Essays in Honour of A. T. Q. Stewart (2004), a Festschrift for the Irish historian Anthony Terence Quincey Stewart, who died in 2010, and she was for many years a member of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Born in wartime Graudenz, West Prussia (now Grudziadz, Poland), Ms Wichert studied at Goethe University Frankfurt in West Germany, and then at the University of Oxford. However, she completed neither her undergraduate degree nor the PhD that she began at Oxford, and so had no formal higher education qualifications. After visiting Belfast as a tourist, she fell in love with the city and settled there.

Mary O’Dowd, professor of gender history at Queen’s, said that Ms Wichert could be a tough teacher, but students admired her honesty.

“Sabine admired intellectual breadth and was contemptuous of narrow-minded pedantry,” Professor O’Dowd writes in a tribute published in a departmental newsletter and via social media. “She lived in Belfast through ‘the Troubles’ but had an outsider’s perspective to the history of Northern Ireland. This was one of the motivations behind the writing of Northern Ireland since 1945.”

Among the most important contributions to the department of modern history, as it was known during her years at Queen’s, was the establishment of a final-year seminar in modern British history, Professor O’Dowd continues.

“Many former students will remember Sabine presiding over the discussion at the seminar: vigorously arguing and debating; unwilling to patronise a student with bland or superficial comments and, of course, always, smoking!

“Sabine loved a good argument and relished students disagreeing with her. Other students will remember Sabine’s parties to which staff and students were warmly welcomed and generously plied with food and drink.”

After her retirement, she continued to take a great interest in the university’s students, and attended postgraduate seminars to robustly question presenters.

Ms Wichert died of cancer on 8 September and is survived by her brothers Peter and Christian.

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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