Wednesday 22 July 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old and revered anthropologist called Jack Goody

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Jack, who has died at the age of 95, contributed a wealth of articles to learned journals, authored or edited over 30 books and built and international reputation in the field of anthropology, which he taught at St.John's College, Cambridge for thirty years.

Peter Burke paid tribute to Jack in 2010 when he said that, in Jack's long life as 'one of Britain’s leading intellectuals', he had three careers : the first was as a professional anthropologist, specializing on West Africa ; the second in the study of literacy and the third, that of a historical sociologist or comparative historian.

I had no idea, as a History undergraduate at Sussex University 50 years ago, that the then young Peter Burke who tutored me on a course in comparative history called 'Aristocracies and Elites', which ranged from Norman knights to Japanese samurai and Ashanti tribesmen, had himself been taught some ten years before by a youngish Jack Goody at St John's College. Peter made me adjust the way that I thought as a student of history, so I suppose a bit of Jack Goody rubbed off on me, as indeed it
must have done on thousands of others in the course of his long career.

What you possibly didn't know about Jack, that he was :

* born John Rankine Goody in 1919, in Hammersmith, Middlesex, on the outskirts of London, the son of  a mother who had been born on the borders of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, shaped by thrifty Scottish Presbyterianism, who Jack recalled : "if someone offered her a flower, she used to say quietly say "I'd rather ha'e eggs" and had worked in the Central Post Office in London.

* as a boy, remembered his father who was an electrical engineer who had moved from technical journalist to advertising manager in the City of London "got up early in the morning to go up there, travelled by train, came back late at night. He only had two weeks holiday a year. So I decided I didn't want the work in the City of London."

* grew up in Welwyn Garden City and from the age of 11, in 1930, took the train to the ancient boys' grammar, St. Albans School, with its motto 'Medioc ria firma', 'The middle road is best', until the family moved to the city so that he and his younger brother, who later taught astrophysics at Harvard, could be closer to school, where they were "much encouraged by my parents who had left school early, especially my Scottish mother" and where he, in his teens joined the 'Left Book Club' and later recalled his "school days were overshadowed by the expansion of Germany and Italy and above all the Spanish Civil War."

* living in St.Albans "got into archaeology, since Mortimer Wheeler was digging up the Roman town of Verulamium which was next to the school" and recalled him unearthing "part of a hypocaust which had a magnificent Neptune mosaic on top" and in his studies in the sixth form, was much influenced by a master who had worked with the school of F.R.Leavis based at Downing College, Cambridge.

* at the age of 18, in 1938, having failed to gain a place at Downing College, attended St.John's College, to study English Literature "which was the sexiest subject", but was also was interested in current affairs and history and later admitted : " So my interest in literature had a more social aspect to it than some of my teachers at Cambridge, above all Leavis, would allow."

* admitted, when interviewed by Eric Hobsbawm in 1991 : "I didn't go to any lectures in my first year. I went to Leavis's seminars in Downing, I went to Hugh Sykes Davies' lectures because he was my supervisor. I went to a number of other things, but very few were connected with what I was meant to be doing at the time. I remember I got reprimanded for not attending sufficient lectures at the time, but there seemed so much more to do. It was very lively and a great intellectual atmosphere and it also seemed very near the real world I suppose, partly with people going off to Spain and being involved in the Spanish Civil War. So that one felt one was very close to what was happening outside Cambridge, as distinct from being at school."

* recalled that he : "thrived in the atmosphere of mutual education, probably didn't listen to anyone over 30, consorted with research students" and with fellow undergraduates, like the slightly older Eric, who had got a place at Downing College, then had his education cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 and conscription into the Army at the age of 20.

* based in Cyprus, was stuck by :  Crusader castles, villages still using a 4,000 year old version of the Mediterranean plough, the Gothic Cathedral in the middle of Nicosia transformed into a mosque and in Egypt by the Pyramids and had also been 'brought face to face with a wide variety of humanity - Greeks, Turks, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jews', cut short in 1942, when he became a prisoner of war, captured after the Eighth Army engaged with the Germans at the Battle of Tobruk.

* was imprisoned for the next three years in camps in the Middle East then Italy, where he escaped and spent time with peasants and came into contact with agricultural life, before recapture and transfer to Camp Eichstätt, in Bavaria, which had a library and where he read two abridged volumes of 'The Golden Bough' by James Frazer and later admitted that : "This is the book which made me interested in anthropology and I don't think I would have come into this field had it not been for Frazer."

* also read 'What happened in History', by archaeologist Gordon Childe, which he acknowledged as the book which had the greatest influence on him : "This Australian Marxist historian transformed the study of prehistory in this country and made it more socially orientated and his ideas about the great advances of the Bronze Age, which took place first in Mesopotamia and then in Northern India and China, showed, contrary to what Marx and Weber said, you couldn't really differentiate Europe and Asia at this time."

* in a camp got involved in teaching modern English literature and in addition "played a great deal of bridge. At the end of the War when I had done only one year of university and couldn't think who'd employ me I even thought of becoming a professional bridge player. The only thing I could do which really which qualified me for anything as far as I could see" but had also "got very interested in social interaction in small groups, as one obviously did living with people in a confined that's one of thing I got interested in later on"

* after being demobbed from the Army at the age of 26, like his friend E.P. Thompson 'wanted to change the world' and eschewed an immediate return to academic life because : "it did not seem to me to be a particular attraction at that time. It seemed to be where all these old fuddy duddies were. What was happening, was happening outside" and under the influence by the Amy Bureau of Current Affairs "felt one received an education. It was the time after all of the 1944 Education Act, people going to university. Universities opening up, made one thought one could do something in the educational field" and also : "felt I'd been standing around in prisoner of war camps long enough and wanted to do something active" and became an adult education officer in Hertfordshire.

* found that the War had a formative effect on his thinking because : "I was in the desert fighting and coming up against Bedouins, a prisoner of war with Indians, South Africans, Russians. At another time I was escaping from prison in Italy in the houses of Italian peasants from the Abruzzi. I think when I came back from the War, somehow or other, I wanted to make some sense of all this diversity. But I think that its only partly that, because reading Marx and Weber made me interested in broad sociological problems, such as why things happen in one place, but not in others. That's something that interested me for a long time."

* in 1946 at the age of 27, inspired by Frazer and Childes, returned to St. John's College and transferred from English Literature to the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology and was taught by Meyer Fortes who "didn't like to be seen simply as a specialist in one continent, but rather as someone able to discuss family systems in different parts of the world" and graduated with a 'Diploma in Anthropology' in 1947, then after a short spell in educational administration and a trip to Balliol College, Oxford to pick up a BLitt  in 1952, he returned to St John’s, this time for a PhD in Anthropology.

* was financially supported by the Government with a scholarship from the Colonial Welfare and Development Funds' and recalled : "I wanted to work in Europe because I'd spent time in Italy and Cyprus and I really wanted to do European anthropology, but at that time there was no money to do European anthropology, you couldn't do it. It was folklore studies or something like that. So I had to go to Africa to become an anthropologist to get fieldwork training."

* assigned to to Gonja in newly independent Ghana, focussed on property, the family, the state with the LoWiili and LoDagaa peoples and : "I was forced to sit in a place for two years and simply observe what was going on and hadn't thought very much about 'the law' and 'religion' in a very concrete way except going to church and being 'had up' for riding a bicycle without lights. This was a kind of revelation to me. To be involved in all these aspects of life, to be involved in the whole productive process too. I learned how to make beer and bread.  It made me interested in a lot of fields of social life I wasn't interested in before."

* characteristically, in Ghana, was "concerned with looking at some so-called primitive tribes, but also what was going on politically... my joining the Convention People's Party was not just a strategy. I was really involved in the process of independence, obviously was not a neutral observer" at the same time while doing village fieldwork, where he wanted to be 'a friend of the ancestors', "never wanted to stay locked in it, but rather understand it in a wider framework, in connection with the desert trade, the routes from the East and South America. I've always been interested in that kind of connection."

* after the War had again met friend and literary historian, Ian Watt, who, also a prisoner of war, albeit without the benefit of a library, had spent time without access to books and because they "had the same experience, we decided to work together on the influence that modes of communication have on human society and above all the role of memory and the consequences of the introduction of literacy in societies without writing" which resulted in their  paper in 1963 which advanced the argument that the rise of science and philosophy in Ancient Greece depended on the invention of the alphabet and continued their partnership through a series of books culminating in 'The Domestication of the Savage Mind' in 1977.

* started his career at Cambridge at the age of 35 as an 'Assistant Lecturer' in 1954, followed by 'Lecturer in Archaeology and Anthropology' from 1959-71, while 'Director of the African Studies Centre' from 1966-73 and finally as the 'William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology' from 1973 to the age of 65 in 1984, with Alan Macfarlane commenting : 'Jack's drive and political skills made the Department of Social Anthropology a really exciting place to be. He prevented feuding and stopping the Department from narrowing down to selected specialisms. He encouraged all forms of anthropology in all areas of the world. Cambridge became the main exporter of good graduates to teach in European universities.'

* as a prelude to 'Cooking, Cuisine and Class' in 1982 "was interested in food in Africa because it was so appalling. It was porridge mostly and despite my Scots ancestry I didn't like to eat porridge in the middle of the day in a hot climate. There were different sauces, but it was always porridge and then I got interested when I went to India and China, particularly China, because there was so much elaboration in China, so many different dishes but Africa was not like that. You had chiefs and you had commoners, mostly everybody ate the same food and that always struck me as interesting. There wasn't an aristocracy of food, everybody ate the same. They had more of it perhaps, but they had the same."

* as a prelude to 'Flowers' in 1993 had noted the "very little use of flowers in Africa, little symbolism attached to them in songs and stories in comparison with Asia and Europe. That's usually the way things start with me : the contrast arouses my interest. The question : 'why people didn't make use of flowers in Africa ?' is posed against the background of the fact that in India, for instance, people are putting garlands round people all the time." "Assuming that the use and non-use of flowers says a lot about societies attitudes and characteristics. I decided to write a historical and anthropological book on this theme."

* 1999 on the occasion of his 80th birthday at Cambridge had one of his ex-students, Cesare Poppi, say of him : "What strikes one about Jack is his commitment to understanding whatever he wants to understand. It used to be called human nature. He gives an impression of being on the job all the time which means perhaps, to him, a certain way of trying to understand things has been a thing with the way he lives. It's not a job for him. He applies understanding to all sorts of situations in the same way. That explains the variety of his interests. It's engrained with the way he lives."

* revealed that his view that "grandchildren and children I like in small quantities. I like the thought of them but their physical presence isn't always attractive" didn't quite square with what one of his daughters said about him when she remembered that he once "dressed up in an Arab costume and had a headdress on and all my sisters and I sat round him and my nieces as well. It was like this guy with his harem of children and grandchildren."

* received recognition when elected 'Fellow of the British Academy' in 1976, gave the 'Luce Lecture' at Yale University in 1987, was recognised at each grade of 'l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' :  'Chavalier' in 1996, 'Officier' in 2001 and 'Commandeur' in 2006 and in 2005 received a 'knighthood' for 'Services to Social Anthropology.'

* said : "Although there is no recipe for perfection and we may not be able to do it terribly efficiently, comparison is one of the few things we can do in historical and social science to parallel the kind of experiments the scientists do."

 * had his daughter say of him : "The one thing I appreciated when I was very little was his great sense of fun and we used to go hunting and gathering for our lunch in the back garden and he had a great sense of imagination. As I grew older his intense capacity for work and his involvement in his work inspires as well as inspired me very much. He's never stopped working. He's always interested in what he's doing."

* had colleague Alan Macfarlane, Life Fellow of King's College, say of him, on his passing, that he was :  'He was a warm and rounded human being and always exciting to be with. I have met many fascinating people in my fifty years in Oxford, London and Cambridge and interviewed several hundred of them, but Jack stands up there as the man who shaped my life the most and as a constant inspiration.'

'He was enormously kind and supportive to many of those he encountered, from children to elderly dons. He would put his hand on your shoulder and draw you into his world, and you knew you could depend on him in any contingency.'

What better epitaph might an old anthropologist have, who has drawn so many, known and unknown to him, into his world ?

Also this year :

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Britain is a country which once made and has now lost its scarce 'old' historian, Professor Chris Bayly

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