Lisa Jardine: academics pay tribute to historian

Leading Renaissance scholar hailed as polymath and iconoclast following her death

October 26, 2015
Professor Lisa Jardine
Source: HFEA

Scholars have paid tribute to the academic polymath Lisa Jardine, the founding director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Humanities at University College London, who died yesterday at the age of 71.

“Lisa Jardine’s scholarship illuminated many subjects,” said Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam university professor at Princeton University, “from Renaissance dialectic to the culture of the Royal Society (which made her a Fellow), and from the careers of male master thinkers like Erasmus and Bacon to the portrayal of women in literature. She enjoyed minute, precise research, and practised it to the end of her life.”

Professor Grafton added that she “also loved to put forward a bold thesis, in striking, provocative language. Both skills came into play – as did her distinctive, powerful voice – in her long career as a broadcaster”.

He continued that “her generosity and public spirit were legendary, and their effects were felt far outside the academy. She served as a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and chaired the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – and was equally proud of her work as a governor of an inner London school.” 

Henriette Louwerse, senior lecturer in Dutch at the University of Sheffield, described reading Professor Jardine’s work (including Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory) as “an empowering and liberating experience. She never smothers her readers with her learnedness; her inherent lightness of tone and her personal engagement and commitment means that you feel invited to share her thought process, to become part of her story.

“That story was both accessible and rigorous, both personal and analytical. And very, very readable.”

 Philip Ogden, professor of geography at Queen Mary University of London, at which she was a professor of Renaissance studies until moving to University College London in 2012, praised Professor Jardine for combining “scholarship and wide intellectual interests with an astonishing energy and application”.

He said that she showed “unwavering commitment to the institution and to the development of the humanities, bringing imagination, flair, hard work, a sense of fun and myriad contacts. No occasion when Lisa was present would be less than engaging, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable. The university world owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.”

“Like many an undergraduate in Cambridge,” recalled Daniel Pick, professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London, who studied under Professor Jardine when she was a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, “I was more than a little impressed by Lisa Jardine’s ebullient force of personality and her warmth, and am now deeply saddened to hear news of her death.”

He added that she “inspired great affection and admiration. I remember an early supervision, in which she pulled the rug, immediately challenging lazy assumptions that Shakespeare was always the greatest, whatever he touched, pointing to our ignorance of his dramatic contemporaries.

“She expected her students to raise their games, and could be bruising at times. The teasing humour and iconoclasm, cosmopolitanism, great learning, feminist challenge and ‘in your face’ style made her no ordinary don.”

Professor Pick continued: “She made no bones about her contempt for ‘mediocrity’, all those, as she put it, ‘cement from the neck up’ men who regarded drinking clubs as the acme of university achievement, or the complacent old fellows who sat on their laurels and published nothing after the age of 30… Sparkling, formidable, funny, fiercely encouraging to those she cared about, sometimes thin-skinned (even though she could always more than hold her own), spectacularly productive and capable, she was ‘larger than life’ in one field after another, inspirational and endearing.”

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Reader's comments (1)

As a well-known broadcaster and champion of female equality, Lisa Jardine did more than any colleague I have known to raise the public profile of Queen Mary as a mature and productive university, with a more human face than it's earlier reputation for science and engineering had presented, and a significant role in national life . London has a greater relative gravitational pull in "the Arts" than in "the Sciences", so her association with QMUL was particularly valuable in ridding the College of its long-time image (ironically expressed in his theatrical writing by Simon Gray, a predecessor of hers in the College) as "a dump in the Mile End Road". Current academic leaders might like to note this was not achieved by adherence to performance targets or acquiescence to the corporate aspirations of the institution, but by the extraordinary breadth of her knowledge and interests, and an unsurpassed talent for communication which made her such a welcome contributor to every kind of public medium. Also ironically, the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, which she founded and sustained, was for a time housed right on the Mile End Road and its name plate visible to all and sundry who passed by, but was later moved to UCL. Perhaps the Queen Mary managers took another route to work each day.

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