Professor Lisa Jardine
BORN OXFORD, APRIL 12, 1944. DIED OCTOBER 25, 2015, AGED 71
THE CHARISMATIC historian and biographer Lisa Jardine “bedazzled her generation” — according to fellow historian Lord Hennessy — who saw her as a natural swimmer in both streams, the scientific and the arts and humanities. Jardine helped make knowledge accessible to all, and invited women to share the dialogue, which earned her the position of foremost female public intellectual of our times.
Backed by a host of academic plaudits, Jardine held doctorates and visiting professorships and spoke eight modern and classical languages. At a time when immigration is an internationally contentious issue, at least two journalists have alluded to Jardine’s central-European Jewish roots as proof of the cultural enrichment immigrants have brought to Britain. According to Mary Dejevsky in the Guardian: “It is no coincidence that both she and David Cesarani (page left) had Central European Jewish roots, which allowed them to span that deep attitudinal divide.”
As a historian, Lisa Anne Jardine focused on the early modern and the Renaissance periods. She pioneered the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary University of London, becoming its Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies and director from 1990-2011. Jardine distrusted a narrow educational system that offered choices between the arts and sciences rather than linking them together, and in time she would prove in her own academic disciplines that both were possible.
Her interest in the emergent developments in the science of embryology led to her chairing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) from 2008-2014. Until 2009 she was a member of Council at the Royal Institution and became founding director of UCL’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Humanities. She was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an Honorary Fellow of King’s College and of Jesus College, Cambridge.
Just this year she was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Society and won its prestigious medal for popularising science, as well as receiving a CBE. For eight years Jardine was a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a Patron of the Archives and Records Association and the Orange Prize.
Her academic awards were legion and included the Francis Bacon Award in the History of Science by the California Institute of Technology in 2012, while in the same year she received the British Academy President’s Medal. Between 2013-14 she was President of the British Science Association of which she had been made an Honorary Fellow in 2012.
Jardine married the scientist Nicholas Jardine in 1969 and they had two children, Daniel and Rachel. The marriage ended in 1979 and in 1982 she married architect John Hare with whom she had a son, Sam.
A prolific and prize-winning writer, Jardine published or co-authored 17 books for academic and general readership and some 50 scholarly articles. Her subjects ranged from women in Shakespeare, Christopher Wren and Francis Bacon, Grayson Perry, Erasmus and 17th-century Holland. Her bestsellers include Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance; Ingenious Pursuits; Building the Scientific Revolution; and Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory. Published by HarperCollins in the UK and USA, this won the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature.
A regular performer on arts, history and political programmes for TV and radio, Jardine had regular slots on BBC4’s A Point of View. She also judged prestigious literary prizes, including the Whitbread Book Awards (1996), the 1999 Guardian First Book Award, and the Orwell Prize (2000). She was appointed chair of judges for the 1997 Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize in 2002.
Lisa Jardine was born to celebrated parents; the scientist and broadcaster Jacob Bronowski, whose Ascent of Man TV series made him a household name in the 1970s, and the sculptor Rita Coblentz. She always attributed her success to her father and made him the subject of her Conway Memorial Lecture, Things I Never Knew About My Father last year.
Describing herself as “a Jewish mother at heart”, this was never more obvious than when she was chairing the judges for the Booker Prize in 2002. At her insistence she held all the meetings at her home, where she also provided the food, in preference to having everyone eat in resturants.
Judaism was to her that essential cultural richness and classnessness, which she felt she owed to her Jewish background. Educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, Newnham College Cambridge and Essex University, she changed her first degree at Cambridge from maths to English in her final year. She took an MA in the Literary Theory of Translation at Essex University, but her PhD from Cambridge with a thesis on Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse, later published by Cambridge University Press, was a clear indication of her developing interest in the arts. It was a position that nevertheless exposed her to criticisms of being a dilettante, or a freewheeler, moving between many interests rather than sticking to a single, rigid academic discipline.
A true people’s person, she enjoyed academic gossip but rejected the narrow, academic career path, which became clear in her love of broadcasting. Her eloquent voice and engaging narrative style made her a natural broadcaster, bringing her scholarship to an audience ready and willing to listen and learn.
Politically, Jardine was a keen socialist in her youth, but resigned from the Labour Party over the Iraq war, and considered herself “well to the left of Tony Blair”, whose doctrinaire style of New Labour she distrusted, despite rejoining the party later. She remained true to her feminist roots, which she had developed in the 1970s, and much of her work, whether scientific, literary or general, was targeted at the feminine angle.
Certainly interest in the humanities and her natural communication skills made her much more than an academic alone. She was an accessible broadcaster and writer with a gift for easy humour, none of which could conceal her impressive academic accomplishments.
Jardine was also a woman of extraordinary intellect and verve, according to a tweet from Olivia Horsfell Turner. Historian Simon Schama tweeted, “Lisa Jardine understood that to write of humanity you needed to be fully part of it,” while former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman called her “a beacon for women”. An important part of her legacy is to have opened up the world of opportunities for succeeding generations of women.
In 2005 Jardine was treated for breast cancer, which caused her to redouble her research efforts in order to achieve more. It was her work at the HFEA that probably most clearly expressed that link between science, the public and ethics, evident in her broadcast on IVF and the marketing of hope.
But her witty piece on the power of a red dress quotes Vogue and seamlessly and artfully morphs into an enchanting history lesson on the colour crimson, banned by the Tudor monarchs to anyone beneath the status of knight.
On Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, her musical choices ranged from Annie Lennox to Elgar’s E Minor Cello Concerto, from Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain ‘s Gonna Fall to Kurt Weill’s Mack the Knife; from Juliette Greco’s Si Tu T’Imagines to Mozart’s Dove Sono from The Marriage of Figaro and Massenet’s bedroom duet from his ballet Manon.
For her favourite song she chose Why, by Annie Lennox, whose lyric “Why don’t you ever keep your mouth shut?” is hardly something her many fans would endorse. And, true to expectations, she opted to take the full 12 volumes of Erasmus to her island.
Lisa Jardine is survived by John, her children Daniel, Rachel and Sam, and eight grandchildren.