Category Archives: Obituaries

Jacques Le Goff [1924-2014]

Born on January 1st 1924 in Toulon, historian Jacques Le Goff has died on 1 April in Paris aged 90. He took up a teaching position and eventually headed up the Paris based School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS). He was one of the main proponents of ‘New History’, inspiring a shift in historical research from an emphasis on political figureheads and mata-events to social memory and historical anthropology.

le GoffThroughout a long career in higher education and public broadcasting, Le Goff transformed views of the Middle Ages from a dark and backward time to a period that set the building blocks for modern Western civilisation.

Outside the lofty towers of academia, Le Goff hosted a weekly history programme on the public radio station France Culture. He also constibuted as an historical advisor on many films, including the 1986 adaption of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose featuring Sir Sean Connery.

Le Goff was editor-in-chief of the highly respected Annales, the mantra journal for historians concerned with long-term social research. His many books included works on Middle Age intellectuals, bankers and merchants, a biography of King Louis IX and a seminal work on the introduction of the concept of Purgatory.

As a junior researcher in Prague, Le Goff witnessed the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. Throughout his life he was a frequent commentator on current events, as a committed pro-European and devout agnostic humanitarian.

Awarded the prestigious Dr. A.H. Heineken prize for history a decade ago in 2004, Le Goff was praised with the words “By transforming our view of the Middle Ages, you have changed the way we deal with history”. At the time the jury described him as “without doubt the most influential French historian alive today”. Sadly the comment is no longer quite accurate but the influence of his work will certainly endure.

See for a more complete obituary.

Yuri Vella’s celebrated at Tartu World Film Festival

The University of Tartu has recently hosted its XI annual Maailma World Festival of Documentary Film (March 15-22). The event opened with a session to honour the career of the Siberian filmmaker, reindeer herder and environmentalist Yuri Vella [1948-2013] In memoriam: Filming and Being Filmed.


The festival session dedicated to Vella’s memory included documentary tributes from his closest filmmaker friends — those who have been on his camps numerous times and whom he called whenever he needed a camera. Olga Kornienko lived not very far from Yuri’s place and specialises in filming the native people of the Khanty-Mansi area. Vella often asked her to be present at some of the significant moments in his life in order to record it. Liivo Niglas, while living in Estonia, has always been receptive to his calls. These filmmaker friends of Yuri Vella and their materials kicked off the festival with a discussion focusing on Yuri and on the relationship between his oeuvre and their own documentary styles.

Stephan Dudeck, anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the Univ. of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland has written an obituary to mark the passing of his friend, teacher and mentor.

Y Vella




Stuart Hall [1932-2014]


Recent obituaries for the late doyen of cultural studies, who also greatly influenced material culture studies, Professor Stuart Hall, have appeared in the Jamaica Observer and the Guardian.

A founding member of the New Left Review, Professor Hall is probably best known in the UK as an inaugural member of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University when, in 1964, he accepted the invitation of its Director Professor Richard Hoggart to join as the Centre’s first research fellow. Hall himself became Director of CCCS a few years later in 1968.

Born in Kingston Jamaica, Hall fled for the UK in 1951 to take up a Rhodes scholars fellowship at Merton College, University of Oxford. He famously abandoned his thesis on Henry James to become an activist in London and during a CND march in 1964, met what would become his life long partner, historian Catherine Barrett. The couple moved to Birmingham and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

CCCS itself had a limited lifespan, being closed down more than a decade ago in 2002. But the students and spirit of cultural studies have lived on to prosper beyond the wildest expectations of its founding intellectual ‘radicals’. This year, a 50th anniversary project in the History Dept. at Birmingham University, funded by the AHRC, celebrates the various legacies of CCCS.


RIP Arthur C. Danto

Arthur C. Danto, a provocative and influential philosopher and critic who championed Andy Warhol and other avant-garde artists and upended the study of art history by declaring that the history of art was over, has died. He was 89. Danto, an art critic for the Nation magazine from 1984 to 2009 and a professor emeritus at Columbia University, died of heart failure Friday at his Manhattan apartment, his daughter Ginger Danto said. An academically trained philosopher, Danto became as central to debates about art in the 1960s and after as critic Clement Greenberg had been during the previous generation. Danto was initially troubled, then inspired by the rise of pop art and how artists such as Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein could transform a comic strip or a soup can into something displayed in a museum, a work of “art.” Starting in the ’60s, he wrote hundreds of essays that often returned to the most philosophical question: What exactly is art? Danto liked to begin with a signature event in his lifetime — a 1964 show at New York’s Stable Gallery that featured Warhol’s now-iconic reproductions of Brillo boxes.

Read the rest of the LA Times Obituary:  Arthur C. Danto dies at 89; .

Igor Kopytoff [1930-2013]

A number of prominent anthropologists have passed away in recent weeks, perhaps most notably, George W. Stocking [July 13th, aged 85], Keith Basso [Aug. 4th, aged 73] and Igor Kopytoff on August 9th.

With his major contribution ‘The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process’, in Arjun Appadurai’s groundbreaking The Social Life of Things (CUP, 1986) Kopytoff in particular deserves special recognition on this blog. Based at the University of Pennsylvania for over 50 years, his field research as an Africanist was truly wide ranging, with interests in economic anthropology, cultural property, religion and political culture. He was a  Consulting Curator in the African Section of the University’s Museum.

Amongst his numerous achievements and accolades, he acted as a Consultant to President Kennedy’s Task Force on the Congo in 1961; was Associate Editor of American Anthropologist from 1966‑70; and was Visiting Professor at the University of Montreal over the year 1983‑84.

An obituary by Allison Steele has appeared in the online digital newspaper



The Peter Loizos Memorial Lecture

Being Between: Thinking with Peter Loizos’ Legacy

Dr Rebecca Bryant

Friday 8 March 2013 at 6.30 p.m. London School of Economics

European Institute, Lecture Room 1, Ground floor, Tower 1, Clements’ Inn, London WC2A 2AE

Chaired by Dr Jonathan Parry, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and Peter Loizos’ colleague and friend.

Throughout his career, Peter Loizos articulated discomfort with his role as a Cypriot ‘insider’ who was expected, as an anthropologist, to behave like an ‘outsider’. He expressed this in numerous ways, from his sensitive photographic and cinematographic studies, which aimed primarily to document a time and place that would soon be lost, to later essays and interviews in which he discussed the limits of engagement with and disengagement from the field. Early on, the division of the island and the displacement of his kin shaped the direction of his research and writing, as he struggled to represent what he had witnessed. At the beginning of The Heart Grown Bitter, Loizos’s second book, he says that the work has two aims: to record the experience of displacement and ‘to commemorate the village of Argaki and its people.’ He also explains that the writing is in a more personal tone, ‘because the formal impersonality of The Greek Gift [his first book] seemed inappropriate for the subject matter of this book.’ In other words, the conventions of anthropological writing were inadequate to represent tragedy.

Continue reading

RIP Aaron Swartz

Here Aaron Swartz and Taryn Simon discuss a collaboration that they undertook for the New Museum last year in which they created a visualization showing the cultural specificity and partiality of google image search.The piece was called Image Atlas.

via Seven on Seven 2012: Aaron Swartz and Taryn Simon on Vimeo.

Editor’s note: the vimeo clip no longer seems to be loading directly from the site in this posting but you can watch the clip here:

Neil Smith: 1954-2012

Originally published in the on October 2, 2012

Neil Smith: A Passionate Scholar and Socialist

Bill Roberts, a founding member of the ISO, and Hector Agredano, a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center, remember the life of a determined activist.

Neil Smith, the renowned scholar, beloved teacher and devoted activist, died on September 29 at the age of 58.

Neil is best known for his academic work. He was a professor of anthropology and geography at City University of New York. In particular, his writings on the patterns of social development in cities–drawing on history, economics, political and social theory, and ecological studies–are among the most prominent left- wing views on the subject.

But Neil will also be remembered as a committed socialist and activist. He came to the U.S. from his native Scotland in early 1977 to complete his graduate studies with David Harvey at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He wasted no time becoming an activist on campus, helping to establish the Graduate Representative Organization.

In 1978, Neil joined the International Socialist Organization (ISO), then only newly formed, and helped to build a campus chapter at John Hopkins of a dozen committed socialists. Neil became a frequent contributor to Socialist Worker, then a monthly
newspaper. One memorable article of his in 1981, titled ”It’s Right to Rebel,” put the London urban riots of that summer in the context of the severe economic recession and the hopelessness it produced.

As Kathy Ogren, a fellow student at the time and now a recognized scholar in her own right, remembered, Neil was “a great popularizer of Marxist ideas…and a good
listener to a person’s evolving political consciousness. He could help one sort out the connections between personal and structural questions and conditions.”

Though Neil left the ISO in 1984, his comrades and students remember the humor and fearlessness he brought to his political organizing. “Neil was one of the most
creative thinkers I’ve ever met,” Ogren said. “He saw connections, applied his prodigious energy to researching an answer, and then found innovative ways to write or speak about what he had learned.”


As a scholar, Neil’s intellect was evident from early in his academic career. In 1979, he wrote an influential article titled “Toward a Theory of Gentrification: A Back to the City Movement by Capital, not People.” More than scholarly research, this was a political intervention in the field of urban geography at a time when questions on urban decay and
ghettoization were riddled with inconsistent theories and contradictory research.

His most important theoretical contribution to the understanding of the geography of capitalism is outlined in Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and
the Production of Space. Here, Neil laid out a coherent explanation for the unevenness and distortion of economic development, specifically in urban areas, because of investment and disinvestment in the built environment by capital markets.

Inspired by insights from Lenin and Trotsky, Neil’s thesis is based on the contradictions of capitalism outlined by Karl Marx in Capital. However, in applying these ideas, he helped to anchor disparate theories from disciplines that often remain separated in the

Neil would expand on these theories to develop analyses on the commodification of nature under capitalism, politics in the study of geography, and U.S. imperialism. One of his most celebrated books, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to
Globalization–for which he received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography for 2002–traces American military interventionism through the age of globalization. The book would prove prophetic when, one year later, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq.

Upon his arrival at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Smith’s scholarship and sharp politics attracted a crowd of activists, intellectuals and radicals of all stripes to his courses. From seasoned anti-gentrification activists of Washington, D.C., to peasant organizers from Costa Rica, and the curious from everywhere in between, they all found a seat at the table. His classes were lively with dissension and debate, and it was alright to be political; in fact, it was encouraged.

During the last years of his life, one of Neil’s main concerns was that radicals and revolutionaries were losing hope. He was frustrated that it was easier for radicals to imagine an environmental apocalypse than a triumphant revolutionary movement against capitalism. During class and in meetings, he would raise the concern that one of the victims of the ruling class offensive had been the utopian imagination of the left.

This was one of the most inspiring things about Neil– he never gave up hope. And when the Occupy movement burst on the scene last fall, he welcomed it with open arms. Class discussion would turn into strategy debates–he encouraged students to participate, and
would hold class at the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park or cancel them to allow us to participate in major demonstrations.

Neil leaves a lasting legacy of scholarship and dedication to geography and to Marxism. As a socialist, he always placed himself in the revolutionary tradition–he spent his last years trying to raise revolution to the agenda in people’s imagination and political frontiers. He left us too soon and will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues, students and loved ones.

Neil Smith, ¡presente!

Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95


Eric Hobsbawm dies, aged 95  (from the

Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist whose work influenced generations of historians and politicians, died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a long illness, his daughter Julia said. He was 95.

Hobsbawm’s four-volume history of the 19th and 20th centuries, spanning European history from the French revolution to the fall of the USSR, is acknowledged as among the defining works on the period.

Fellow historian Niall Ferguson called the quartet, from The Age of Revolution to 1994′s The Age of Extremes, “the best starting point I know for anyone who wishes to begin studying modern history”.

Hobsbawm was dubbed “Neil Kinnock’s guru” in the early 1990s, after criticising the Labour party for failing to keep step with social changes, and was regarded as influential in the birth of New Labour, though he later expressed disappointment with the government of Tony Blair.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, described Hobsbawm as “an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family”.

He said: “His historical works brought hundreds of years of British history to hundreds of thousands of people. He brought history out of the ivory tower and into people’s lives.

“But he was not simply an academic, he cared deeply about the political direction of the country.

“Indeed he was one of the first people to recognise the challenges to Labour in the late 1970s and 1980s from the changing nature of our society

“He was also a lovely man, with whom I had some of the most stimulating and challenging conversations about politics and the world. My thoughts are with his wife, Marlene, his children and all his family.”

Hobsbawm’s lifelong commitment to Marxist principles made him a controversial figure, however, in particular his membership of the British Communist party that continued even after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

He said many years later he had “never tried to diminish the appalling things that happened in Russia”, but had believed in the early days of the communist project that “a new world was being born amid blood and tears and horror: revolution, civil war, famine. Thanks to the breakdown of the west, we had the illusion that even this brutal, experimental, system was going to work better than the west. It was that or nothing.”

Hobsbawm was born into a Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1917, and grew up in Vienna and Berlin, moving to London with his family in 1933, the year that Hitler came to power in Germany. He studied at Marylebone grammar school and King’s College, Cambridge, and became a lecturer at Birkbeck University in 1947, the beginning of a lifelong association that culminated in his becoming the university’s president.

He became a fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was awarded the companion of honour in 1998.

He is survived by his wife, Marlene, his daughter, Julia, and sons Andy and Joss, and by seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Eric Hobsbawm

Luc de Heusch (1927-2012)

The well known Belgian ethnographic film-maker Luc de Heusch started his career as a poet who was part of the CoBrA group (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam). He later fell under the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss as well as Marcel Griaule and Jean Rouch. He was professor of anthropology at the Free University of Brussels, where he taught for nearly forty years from (1955-1992).

Strongly anti-colonialist in his political views, he directed the ‘Laboratory of Belief Systems & African Thought’. From 1987 to 1991 he was president of the scientific council for the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren near Brussels and was also president of the Henri Storck Foundation. It is as a film assistant to H. Storck in the late 1940s that he learnt to make ethnographic documentaries. 

Along with his good friend Jean Rouch, de Heusch was one of the most prominent advocates of visual anthropology, especially in his role as deputy secretary general of CIFE (the International Committee on Ethnographic Film - which, at the instigation of Edgar Morin, became CIFES in 1958 with the addition of the adjective ‘sociological’). It was Morin who wrote the preface to de Heusch’s groundbreaking UNESCO publication Cinema and Social Sciences: A Survey of Ethnographic and Sociological Film.

Luc de Heusch was elected as a member of Belgium’s Royal Academies for Science & the Arts. 

Select Filmography:

Fête chez les Hamba (1955), Les gestes du repas (1958), Les amis du plaisir (1961), Jeudi on chantera comme dimanche (1967), Tracking the pale fox (1984), Quand j’étais Belge (1999).

Select Bibliography:

1958. Essais sur le symbolisme de l’inceste royal en Afrique, Brussels: Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles.

1962. The Cinema and Social Science. A Survey of Ethnographic and Sociological Films. Paris: UNESCO.

1966. Le Rwanda et la civilisation interlacustre. Études d’anthropologie historique et structurale. Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles.

1981. Why Marry Her? Society and Symbolic Structures (trans. by J. Lloyd). Cambridge: Univ. Press.

1982. The Drunken King, or, The Origin of the State (trans by R. Willis). Bloomington: Indiana.

1982. Rois nés d’un cœur de vache. Mythes et rites bantous II. Paris: Gallimard, Coll. Les Essais.

1985. Sacrifice in Africa: A Structuralist Approach (trans. by L. O’Brien & A. Morton). Manchester: Univ. Press.

1987. Ecrits sur la royauté sacrée. Bruxelles: Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles.

2002. Du pouvoir: Anthropologie politique des sociétés d’Afrique centrale. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie.