I retired from the Department of Social Anthropology at the end of September 2009. I had taught there for 34 years and decided to have a party to celebrate those years. This is the invitation I sent out.
Still climbing…. (Courtesy of Borut Peterlin, 2008)
The University of Cambridge celebrates its 800th anniversary this year. I will celebrate nearly one twentieth of that period in Cambridge by having a real (and virtual) party to mark my retirement from the Department of Social Anthropology in September this year. It is also a pre-launch party for Reflections on Cambridge to be published in the autumn by Social Science Press, Delhi with Berghahn Books, which tries to make sense of what I have experienced over these years.
The party will be from 5pm onwards on Saturday July 4th (Independence Day!) in the Saltmarsh Rooms, King’s College, Cambridge. There will be food and wine - and a cake will be cut at about 7pm.
It would be lovely if you could come for a while to help me move on to my next phase as Life Fellow of King’s and with new project in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
If you can come, please let me know and there will be a ‘Memory Book’ to write a message of advice, any shared memories etc. (please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to the Department of Social Anthropology, CB2 3RF, or King’s College, Cambridge, CB2 1ST).
If you can’t make it, please do send me a message (email@example.com) with a brief update on yourself and any memories which I will add to the book, parts of which may go on my website, along with photos.
Dress is informal. There will be no speeches. There may be music. Children and partners are very welcome – but no other pets. Ask the way at the Porter’s Lodge. There may be some parking if you let me know.
Looking forward to hearing from you and sharing this special day with you in body or in spirit.
The Memory Book
The photograph showing you framed by the spires and roofs of Cambridge, bathed in a rather Italianate light, places you (in my eyes, anyway) in your Origins of English Individualism period of the seventies, when you were my undergraduate supervisor (‘Kinship and Marriage’), and later my PhD supervisor (Farm Households in a Devon Parish).
Although I cannot find a single photograph from that time certain images spring to mind as vividly as if they had been captured on film. The first concerns your office halfway along the upper corridor of the Free School Lane building, reached by staircases and corridors from several different entrances. That office of yours had a faint smell of foxing pages and light subdued by north-facing walls. At the far end of the office, framed by the window, Sarah was invariably hard at work surrounded by index card files. You were always incredibly generous about lending books from your well-stocked shelves. (You wisely wrote down the names of book borrowers in an exercise book.) Cutting through the shadowy memory of books is the smell and sight of steaming mugs of coffee. Those mugs were filled from an electric kettle stowed beneath the bookshelves to the left of the table. You also had the remarkable habit of offering a glass of sherry at late afternoon supervisions for several students. Your hospitality extended far beyond the Department of Anthropology, with invitations for delicious dinners at your house in Lode, a glimpse of your formidable library in the Barn, and the orchard you were then establishing.
These kindly acts were part of what made kinship such an intensely interesting (and contradictory) area of Anthropology to me. Your Christmas cards, which have been arriving steadily for nearly 30 years, always hand-written, always with a personal message (however hard that might be to decipher sometimes), somehow transforming a routine gesture into a unique expression. And even now, in 2009, when I received your lovely invitation to return to Cambridge for your Independence Day party, your word processed letter was carefully folded into eight to fit into a crumpled 1950s brown envelope. (I suspect you have a pile of those envelopes.)
Dear Alan, if I can possibly get to Cambridge for 5pm on 4th July, I most certainly will. Since it’s a little difficult at this point to know whether I am going to be able to, I am sending you this message. I would like to tell you how much I appreciate your teaching and your human kindness when I was in Cambridge, as well as your continuing understanding and interest after I had left. I wish you very much happiness and fulfilment in your retirement, which looks set to be the very opposite of retiring!
Congratulations to you, to Sarah, and to all the family,
Love from Mary
In some ways it has been more difficult to write this than a couple of first year essays set by you in the 1980s!
I have whittled down the many memories of you to the two which had the most ‘serious’ consequences.
You gave my very first lecture in Social Anthropology in the Mill Lane lecture theatre. I was going to be an archaeologist – until you entered wearing jeans, your academic gown and carrying a Naga spear. You talked about the symbolism of the colours and what you were wearing… and I was a convert to Soc. Anth.
Years later over a sherry in your rooms at King’, you needed to criticise some post-graduate writing of mine. You told me the story of the Curate’s Egg. It was a fair comment, and kindly put. It is in this light that I always think of you.
Thank you for being the best Supervisor (twice!), a wise counsellor and friend, and my son Guy’s very favourite ‘Indian’.
Carles Salazar (August 2009)
I think Alan Macfarlane is a man who enjoys life and enjoys anthropology. And so do I since I met him. It was in the late 1980s, when I had just started an MPhil in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge and Alan had kindly accepted to be my supervisor. What do anthropologists do? I was wondering at that time. Perhaps anthropologists study ‘tribal peoples’, or ‘cultures’, or maybe cultural difference, or cultural ‘otherness’, or maybe they simply take the whole human species as their object of knowledge, which is what the word ‘anthropology’ actually means. With a background in law and history, anthropology was for me a simultaneously fascinating and mysterious subject, almost as fascinating and mysterious as Cambridge (and perhaps England) itself. What do anthropologists do? They do fieldwork. And what on earth is that? Well, fieldwork is fieldwork, just do it and you’ll see. I knew very little about the sort of research that is so distinctive of anthropology. But I was already familiar with Alan’s work on English history, enough to have been absolutely ensnared by what I still consider on of the most beautifully written and provocative pieces of historical investigation: The Origins of English Individualism.
Trained in the unpalatable dogmas of Marxist historiography, I could hardly be more in disagreement with the main thesis of the book (as the majority of historians were at that time). How could it be that individualism has always been there, in England, perhaps in the West?, that modernity is not a historical product but a ‘cultural’ product, something that has always been with us – and, obviously, never with ‘them’? It is as if the main events of European history such as the industrial revolution, modernisation, secularism, individualism, etc. turned out to be, enigmatically, ahistorical, history outside history. In fact, they are not historical events at all, but cultural facts – something that never ‘happens’ because it never changes, or hardly. Is this what anthropologists do when they take a look at history? Who could be the author of such an unfathomable thesis? Undoubtedly, a brilliant man. I wish I could write a book like that, and that is the most inscrutable effect that Alan’s work had produced in me. Alan not only accepted to supervise my MPhil but he ended up as my PhD supervisor. So after that initial taste of his research, I had plenty of time to enjoy his intellectual guidance and to explore in depth his thoughts as I was learning to be an anthropologist at the same time. This turned out to be a felicitous combination because, without doubt, The Origins of English Individualism is a deeply anthropological work – and that might be the reason why the most conventional historians, especially Marxist historians, could never cope with it.
Alan’s later research in Nepal and especially in Japan came as a confirmation of the profound anthropological insights enshrined in his earlier work on English history. Japan is a sort of inverted mirror image of England, i.e. something that is at once very similar and very dissimilar. If the English have always been modern the Japanese have never been so – as Alan himself boldly stated, graciously turning Latour on his head, in a private conversation we had in late July, 2009. But the interesting thing about this contrast, it seems to me, is what it teaches us about the anthropologist’s craft, which is to probe into the deepest levels of human experience. The interesting thing is not so much to see Japan as England’s polar opposite, but rather to be able to look behind the scenes of the turmoil of historical processes, so to speak, to be able to see the (relatively) unmovable behind the movable, what remains unchanged when everything else does change. Should we call it ‘culture’, or ‘deep structure’? I don’t know but Lévi-Strauss reached a very similar conclusion taking a very different intellectual detour. Maybe that is what anthropologists do. Enjoy anthropology.
Lots of memories of Cambridge and your teaching and supervision, for example your quoting Yeats to me - the line about the hand poised above the paper. Above all what I have remembered is the conscientious way in which you returned very quickly to me work that I had submitted and how you always responded promptly to correspondence from the field. It's an example I tried to follow when it came to my turn to act as a supervisor. Thank you for your kindness. I shall be there with you in spirit tomorrow. Warm wishes, Bill
As to the memories for the memory book...
My own "Memory Book" would be a very different thing if I had not had the luck to be your student at Cambridge. You transformed my undergraduate years so that I encountered the joy of academic study for the first time (gently encouraged with cakes, walks and great kindness). Later, you gave me the opportunity to go to Greece - something that has altered the rest of my life in untold and wonderful ways, bringing me not only a thesis, but a husband, two daughters, material for books and a view from my terrace that is to die for. So, dear Alan, although thank you is inadequate, thank you. With love, Sofka
Very sorry I can't be there for your party. I have many fond memories of times with you in Cambridge, and most vividly this one: 1984, I was in Cambridge to write up, with Victor and our two very small children, Nick and Simon, and our nanny/housekeeper Lina from Singapore. Lina liked to keep the apartment at a tropical temperature. It was winter. You and Sarah arrived for dinner from your cottage, just before you installed heating. Or maybe you had been in the barn, with all those books, and a paraffin heater? Anyway, you proceeded to undress. One sweater, two sweaters, altogether I think about 5 layers of clothing came off you during the evening. We've always chuckled about that, and invoked that moment whenever I insist on keeping our Canadian house at an English temperature, and everyone else wants to go round in the middle of winter in a T-shirt.
You were a wonderful supportive supervisor. I didn't know until recently that I was one of your first PhD students. I don't remember actually receiving a lot of advice from you, except words to the effect of "very good, carry on". But you did get me to write field reports during my research, which forced me to do a proper analysis as I went along. I now ask my students to do the same (although they don't always do it). For me it was the key to efficient fieldwork and writing: without it I would have gone back to Cambridge with a huge box of notes and little sense of what I had, or what to make of it. I hope the generations after me heeded your advice on that point. It was a great joy to rediscover you at an ASA meeting in 2006, after twenty years, and find out a little more about how you understand the world and attempt to explain it. I think we've made a date for hiking together in the tea plantations of Assam sometime in the next decade. I'll hold you to it. With a very big, warm hug and much love, to you and Sarah, Tania
I would like to thank you for your gentleness and generosity. It would have been difficult to find a more generous supervisor – generous in sharing his time, ideas, advice. Your advice ranged from thesis-related mattes to more practical and even literary ones: scribble your thoughts on the back of an envelope and let them rest a little – value deceivingly simple inventions such as paper clips – read Kipling to improve your style… You know how to make your students feel as if they are your intellectual equals, at least at times – a rather unusual procedure on the European continent. Nothing could motivate one more.
Cambridge being the way it is, with its more or less subtle hierarchies on all levels, my memories of you are necessarily linked with places and privileges: the magnificent office overlooking the backs at King’s, sitting on a bench in the Fellows’ Garden, having sandwiches in the SCR, and, in a slightly different sense, the beautiful garden in Lode. I remember the pride I felt when I walked with you over the grass towards King’s Main Gate after our last meeting. It is thank to you that my Cambridge years remain a treasured experience and an ongoing inspiration. Anne.
When I arrived in Cambridge – admittedly much earlier in my career than would have been ideal in retrospect – I was full of energy, enthusiasm and confidence, ready to continue research on shamanism I had begun as an undergraduate. I had received the highest honours at a reasonably prestigious college in the United States, but was altogether unaware of an impending irony: I had come to Cambridge to study rites of passage and indoctrination into the elite role of shaman, while the greatest test I would face was my own rites of passage and indoctrination into the world of intellectual giants at Cambridge. It was not the small pond in which I had once starred, and I found myself largely unprepared to meet the intellectual demands and expectations I encountered, or to be able to process the moral and ethical implications of the world of my field research, in which shamanism had been virtually wiped out by centuries of exposure to Western values about health and development. I faltered early on – crushed and ready to withdraw.
It was against that backdrop that Alan Macfarlane entered my life, with a gracious offer to serve as my supervisor. Under normal circumstances I would have been truly delighted to know such a magnificent person, the Renaissance man defined. But given my state at the time, Alan’s presence in my life took on nearly mythic proportions, which I admit with gratitude continue to this day, sixteen years later. I perceived him to be my rescuer, my champion, and later, a true thought partner whose intellectual breadth knew no limits. He was patient with my limitations, and made me believe I could succeed. He brought history, philosophy and an extraordinary depth of knowledge of anthropology to bear on our discussions. He invoked memories of the great historical figures of Cambridge, inviting them to join us, making their presence nearly tangible in the parlours and courtyards we met in or strolled through. Despite being steeped in history, Alan’s path traced the cutting edge of technology, opening new frontiers and bringing new tools to bear on anthropological exploration. He managed to produce prodigious amounts of new work at 21st century speed, yet always appeared calm, peaceful and unflustered, walking reflectively through the orchard of trees that connected him to friends throughout the world, or strolling over the stones in his garden surrounded by countless varieties of thyme [time], as if a philosopher from some bygone age. But most important was his humanity – Alan made time for relationships and human connections, building deep friendships with his family in Nepal and with students and friends around the world. He gave generously of his time, both while in Cambridge and later through correspondence, sharing his joys, his insights and his adventures with great sincerity. He invited us to visit his home and immerse ourselves in the tranquillity of his tea house. We shared meals together and celebrated the spirit of inquiry in his library filled to its high ceilings with books, puzzles and artifacts, which one could peruse more fully by climbing the twisting staircase. He shared his family with us, and his deep intellectual partnership and companionship with Sarah. In sum, Alan embodied the spirit of exploration, engagement and human generosity more broadly and fully than any person I have ever known.
Alan, if you could see the tears in my eyes as I write this, you would know how much you mean and meant to me. Know that you have my eternal gratitude and admiration, and my heartfelt wishes for your health and happiness in the many long years ahead.
It has been a pleasure and honour knowing you over the last decade and a half. I first came into contact with you during my M.Phil and will always remember the all day workshop on Nepal you used to run – complete with Shaman.
I was thrilled when you agreed to supervise my PhD and enjoyed every second of working with you. Our trip around Korea is a treasured memory and was an education in how to conduct a short bout of focused fieldwork.
Many thanks for the enormous impact you have on my life,
Love, David and family
Many thanks for all your help with my PhD and here’s to a thoughtful and inclusive multimedia future.
My very best wishes, Judith
Congratulations on your “retirement from the Department of Social Anthropology.” I noted that you did not say “retirement” (full stop) since I cannot imagine such a thing. Rather, I expect this will mark little more than a transition in your journey of learning and recording. I look forward to what comes next – even if it is marked only with friends over cups of tea. I’d like to thank you and Sarah for the invitation to participate in this wonderful occasion.
Unfortunately, my family will not be able to attend. In fact, we moved from Kenya to Vietnam last week; and we have our hands full settling into the remarkable city of Ha No. The four of us are doing extremely well. I have moved locations but not jobs. I am still coordinating CARE International’s global response to climate change. My team is responsible for providing direction and facilitating action in just under 70 of the world’s poorest countries. Last month, we released a major study on climate change, migration and displacement that was reported by the BBC, CNN, AP, Reuters, The Economist, Nature, etc. (more than 300 major news outlets worldwide). I mention this last because it is a tribute to the training and support you provided to me during my time at Cambridge. Thank you.
On the basis of this and related publications, I have been asked to join the International Panel on Climate Change and, through it, continue pushing for policies that will make a difference to the lives of our children and grandchildren… So, that’s the status of our life’s journey as we wish you and Sarah well on the next step in yours. With much love and affection, ever yours. Charles, Cecilia, Lucas Amani and Sophia Annorah
One of the most iconic scenery of Cambridge, a photo of King’s College’s chapel and the next building taken from the Backs, reminds me of your supervision in your room. Every time you offered me a cup of tea or coffee. At first, it amazed me, because it is still very rare that senior men serve a cup of tea to his junior in Japan.
While writing up my thesis entitled “The war on the screen: Japanese nationalism and wartime newsreels”, you guided me how to analyze the historical materials in the perspective of social anthropology. I enjoyed the conversation which I had with you at that time. You pleased me consistently with self-esteem. These days I research on the BBC and women in politics, then I realise what I learned from you helps my research enormously.
We, Japanese, also have to very much appreciate your excellent works on Japanese society, which help foreigners who are not familiar to Japan to understand Japanese society and culture. Moreover, I found all the materials posted on the web such generous contribution to all of us. Especially, I am most impressed by your project of video interviews with magnificent scholars. Surely, the project is very valuable in human history.
I wish you all the joy and happiness in your new life.
I am sure moving your office materials must have been quite a moment. So much wisdom and experience there, and many memories too. We’ve all been very luck to have been your students, Alan, and to have enjoyed your warmth and generosity, which included the use of your office, a privilege other graduate students never imagined could exist! Many thanks for that as well.
With warmest best, Srijana
I sure that the party to mark your redeployment and Reflections on Cambridge will be wonderful and I am sorry that I can’t be there. I wanted to write to share some of my memories of our now thirteen year relationship.
When I think of you no longer being in the office at King’s, it is strange to me, because so many of my memories of you are attached to that place. I would often walk down from Newnham, across the river and through King’s College, and on my way look at your window and smile. I look forward to memories of you in new places as you begin this part of your life.
I remember those first supervisions in your office at King’s. I was a second year undergraduate and rather awkward, very unsure of myself. I remember particularly a discussion on civil society and the fact that you thought my essay was good. That praise, the ‘excellent’ written on the bottom of the paper, was more important than you could ever have known. It made me realize I had potential I had not seen.
During the M.Phil and the PhD, I could not have made it through without you. In difficult times, when I arrived at your office with nothing to show for my work, you would suggest a walk around the gardens; we would discuss the plans of the garden committee, rather than the pages I hadn’t written.
I think it is you who taught me that I was not my work; that while anthropology and writing could be all compelling, my value wasn’t connected to how well my ideas went down on the page. You encouraged me, above all, to seek happiness and balance, and were patient when I chose the winding path. I even followed your advice on love, and found someone, finally, who shares a love of the same books and ideas. It was good advice!
As I teach my own classes here at Denison University, your teaching is my model. I recall still a class, probably in Part 2A, on Marx. As the class began, I am sure I wasn’t the only one to think that I already knew this material. Yet, as you unpicked the text before us, I realized that until that point I hadn’t ever really known how to read nor really understood how the personal histories of men and women shape what they are able to see and write.
As I teach now, I try and follow your example in bringing texts and authors to life and in showing the connections between texts and their times. As I supervise undergraduate students here, particularly those conducting independent research, I try to imitate your light hand. With your guidance, my work grew in a way that was completely mine.
As we discussed drafts of my work, your comments led me to improve it significantly without ever losing my own voice. Your criticism, always deserved and always gently delivered, never crushed me. I only ever left your office excited about how much new I had to consider and more certain about the possibilities of my ideas. Our conversations gave me the confidence to find my own voice, to paint in broad strokes, and not to be afraid to say something brave.
Alan, you taught me more about teaching, scholarship and life than I can ever begin to list. I cannot thank you enough. I send you so much love as you begin this new stage of your life, With love, Ruth
Erudite and insightful, broad and meticulous – as a scholar, Alan, you are all of these. But your remarkable intellect runs on rails of a deeply caring gentleness, and it is this more than anything that makes you one of the most inspirational people I know at Cambridge.
With warms thoughts and congratulations from Ruth and me
Thank you very much for leading me to anthropology. I have obtained a different angle to observe the world. This experience is like Alice through the looking glass.
Thank you so much for all you have done for me in the last five years.
I wish you successfully move on to your next new phase. I hope I may have the chance to work with you continuously and travel with you and Sarah in the future!
With love, Zilan
Taught MPhil Students
Ricardo Sanmartin Arce
Congratulations for your retirement and Life Fellow of King's. Surely, you have reached a splendid goal in your academical career, and still there is new project in the Museum! I'm very proud for having had such an excellent tutor in my young days at Cambridge. I always remember with pleasure that years 1978- 1979 listening your wise advices in your office, with a cup of tea, a pencil and my papers written in the same awful English as now. I would like to be there for such special party, but I will not be able to go. Those days I will be in Galicia, at the University of Lugo lecturing on fieldwork research together with Carmelo Lisón and other colleagues. In any case, I would like to join all of you spiritually with my best sentiments and wishes. Congratulations again, Very, very yours, Ricardo Sanmartín
Jose Wendell Capilli [Written in 2004]
Alan Macfarlane is a major influence in my growth as a scholar and creative writer. The most important legacy he had given me can be summarized in one word: ANALYSIS. He taught me to always go for the path breaking, to see a particular model in an unusual way, problematize a design before summing it into parts by situating it within a particular context and nature.
His classes at Cambridge are always cheerful. His teaching methodology varies from session to session---never predictable and content-wise, always updated. Oftentimes, students find everyday applications of Alan’s lectures to their respective personal lives.
I arrived in Cambridge rather immature, both intellectually and emotionally. The mid 1990s had been pretty stressful for me. It was Alan who empowered me to rise above harrowing experiences with academic politics before arriving in Cambridge. With Alan’s guidance as my supervisor I was able to discover my limitations and somehow became skilled at working within and beyond these. Alan has always been a brilliant supervisor and a dear teacher to me and many of my friends at Cambridge. I wasn’t a particularly gifted student but Alan was always patient and encouraging.’
Tek Gurung [extracts from a long set of memories]
We finally met in Cambridge for the first time. Although I had heard that he had been to Nepal many times and he had written books on Nepal, but I had never even seen his photograph. This was like in Nepal and many societies where there are practices of arranged marriages that bride and groom never see each other before the actual marriage. I was with a lot of excitement, but anxiety too! to meet with him. Again, as I was used to, I began to greet with my way saying ‘Sir’ for every sentence I spoke to this great man. Perhaps, he realised that I was too much culturally suppressed person, not like other ‘Gurung’ whom he had met in the mountain villages of Nepal. Then to comfort me (I guess he too was not so comfortable the way I was speaking!), he said if I was not comfortable to call him by his first name then I could use a Gurung term ‘Aagi’, older brother. Oh! what a relief that was! Since then when I meet him or when I write a letter or e-mail to him I have been using this term ‘Aagi’ to address him. In my cultural way, to call him just ‘Alan’ was alien to me!
Since I really did not have a prior background in anthropology, my time with Cambridge was not definitely simple and easy. For the first time in my life then I was being introduced to a host of new books, new theories, new veterans, new people, and new way of looking at the world. While I was struggling to get up to the speed, at the same time it was Aagi (Alan), Caroline Humphrey and others who, I felt, were also really struggling for a quite tricky venture of “rubbing an axe against sharpening stone to make it a needle”. I remember very clearly, I am not sure if I really can forget those, that Aagi and I was walking along the narrow streets of Cambridge, stepping on the lawn of Kings College (normally if I would dare to step by myself the Porters would throw me out!), chatting in his office room at the Kings college and sometimes sipping of wine, and elaborated discussions in his ‘thatch roofed house’ with Sarah Harrison (whom I address by a familial relational term as ‘Song’, it is an address to the wife of elder brother in Gurung language as Alan being my ‘Aagi’) at Lode Road, at the outskirt of Cambridge city. I remember that Aagi was telling me, while we were walking one day beside the Guild Hall, that for me the subject anthropology was like a thick forest then and it was difficult to see through that and, therefore, my effort to study was like trying to thin them so that I could see through.
My several visits to Lode and tireless editing supports by Sarah (‘Song’) to my small 10,000 words thesis writing were also unforgettable time of my life. I don’t remember now that how many times I did revise the thesis with her comments and suggestions together with Aagi. However, it was definitely a life-shaping exercise for me. I could see the ideas were getting more properly expressed and concepts were more clearly presented during those tiresome exercises. I am not sure if I can ever payback the debt of inspirations, encouragement and environment provided to me. I think, I was the luckiest student ever to find my Aagi and Song.
As other types of mental representation, such as imagination, memory can be reiterative. When I travelled to England this morning, I remembered a number of travels to Cambridge during which I remembered conversations we had had - mostly obviously again: about memory. And as last time, thus remembering remembering, I had the Confessions of the great "gourmet de la mémoire" - Saint Augustin - with me. After introducing memory as the venter animi - the stomach of the soul - in the tenth book, he asks: "Cur igitur in ore cogitationis non sentitur a disputate, hoc est a reminiscente, laetitia dulcedo vel amaritudo maestitiae? [...] Quis enim talia volens loqueretur, si quotiens tristitiam metumve nominamus, totiens maerere vel timere cogeremur?" (X, 14, 22) As I translate it: "How, then, does it come about that in discourse, thus also in remembering, one does not also sense in the palatine of consciousness the sweetness of joy and the bitterness of gloom? [...] Who would like to talk about such things at all, if we had to suffer grief and fear every time we only mention grief and fear." When I read these lines again, I thought to myself that for some memories the function described by Augustine cannot be in place. And I am thankful that what I remember about our times in Cambridge - in King's and Lode, with green tea and sherry - will stand the test in any kind of reiteration and bring back their joyfulness and inspiration to the palatine of my consciousness as freshly as ever.
Congratulations on your graduation from the University.
Your contribution World and Cambridge is great. I assure (you) your work on Japanese history is immortal.
Warmest regards, Takeo
A vivid memory of the first meeting with Alan, at the University of Sussex, talking on witchcraft in the early 70s, and (unlike many historians – then and since) drawing diagrams on the blackboard. Peter
I have so many memories of working with you from the recording of the history seminars to recordings of great anthropologists and, of course, the video disc – what an adventure into the new technology!
I very much value your support and enthusiasm for the new technology and of course on a personal level. I recollect one lunch time when I must have been under some stress and you took me for a walk on the backs of Kings to see bluebells – a real tonic for me and very much appreciated.
I felt we were very much on the same wavelength with a liberal and open minded approach to education and willingness to innovate and embrace the burgeoning technology. Not just to embrace, but to explore possibilities and push it to new applications. We won some and lost some but we tried and I can see many of the ideas you had manifest in the current CD, Twitter, Google search etc etc.
What a privilege it was for me to work with you and your students.
I remember with great pleasure the years we have spent together at King’s and the more recent joy of our walks together in the fens. And I look forward to the years ahead when hopefully we can continue our friendship. There is much more to do and I wish you happiness and success in achieving even more than you have yet achieved.
I remember you well as a kind, quiet, thoughtful person. One cherished memory I have of you is of one Spring day when you invited me to lunch at King’s. Before lunch we walked along the path which was bordered by daffodils and narcissi. During the short, leisurely stroll you talked enthusiastically about the jobs of living in Cambridge. Your happiness and sincerity was very infectious and made me happy too.
John Hajnal [letter of 14 March 1996]
I enormously enjoyed my time with you. You put yourselves out so much for me…
I got something I hadn’t anticipated, the chance to see your memory palace and to hear Alan’s explanation of his techniques of handling data and other aspects of his working methods. With Alan obviously at the height of his powers it was a marvellous experience, from which I learnt a great deal.
I can’t listen to ‘Brothers in Arms without thinking of your memories of lodges in Thamel [Kathmandu]. Thank you for that memory and association – and for sharing Thak with me… and much more.
With love, Janet
The clearest of many key memories from the ‘Dark Ages’ – as a PhD student: your writing up seminar – post Ernest, by candlelight – with Cornelia Sorabji presenting: more ambiance than illumination (ie darkness), Best wishes, Helen
I have come to appreciate Alan Macfarlane more since I left Cambridge 12 years ago. This is not to say we didn’t get on as colleagues. In fact, I can’t remember a time when we were seriously at odds. We were temperamentally very different: Alan certainly didn’t approve of my irascible behaviour in department meetings and I was often rude to him. I recall telling him, in a meeting to review examination papers, that one of his questions was the worst I had ever seen. He stared back at me without a flicker of emotion and said, “Thank you, Keith. If you have any more comments, I will be glad to hear them”. So perhaps it is Alan’s unflappability that accounts for the lack of conflict between us. But there were also positive grounds for us to get on.
With Ernest and Jack, we were each committed to an anthropology firmly grounded in big think comparative history. Because of my unusual career pattern, I was by far the most junior member of this quartet; but that did not prevent a measure of tension developing between me and Ernest. I was not impressed by Alan’s published work before I came back to Cambridge in 1984. While I was based in America, I was asked to review his The Origins of English Individualism (1978) and I returned the book because I couldn’t think of anything positive to say about it. But on the spot I came to recognize our shared commitment to experimental methods of teaching anthropology through the history of ideas and world history. We jointly supervised several doctoral students, always successfully. We found a winning combination for our relationship that matched common interests to complementary expertise. So I look back on our time together in the department as one of constructive collegiality.
The greatest source of convergence between us was in the use of audio-visual aids and information technology. Alan was at least a decade ahead of me on this one. His vision and application in developing a multimedia website and encouraging the development of a video library paid off magnificently. The interviews he has made publicly available over the years in his “Ancestors” series are a treasure for all time (provided that we can learn how to overcome their built-in obsolescence, which I am sure Alan is working on). And that is just part of an effort that has been truly monumental. I got into the digital revolution in the early 90s, around the time when the World Wide Web was invented. For two years I chaired a committee of the Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences exploring the possible uses of AVA and IT in research and teaching. Alan was our departmental representative and my closest ally in this project. I followed his example in forming close relations with the technical staff who were often snubbed by technophobe academics. We both built on Jack Goody’s legacy as an avid user of technical services, with me partly wearing my other hat as Director of the African Studies Centre.
One frequent excuse for passivity we heard then was that Cambridge is an old-fashioned place and the polytechnics were way ahead of us in the use of advanced technologies, so we couldn’t possibly catch up. But this is to think of the digital revolution in linear terms. We all enter it at different times with a particular bundle of advantages and drawbacks. Pioneers often get stuck in habits formed by an earlier stage while the software had since become more user friendly, so that less skilled newcomers might be better suited to new possibilities than the old hands. Alan and I, whatever our shared commitment to the medium, reflect the different points at which we entered the revolution. Each of us has adapted to new developments, but he retains a model of his website as an archive or museum, a repository for research materials, whereas I have been more open to the interactive possibilities of the medium. This has culminated in the formation of a club for people interested in anthropology at www.openanthcoop.ning.com which took only a month to acquire its first 1000 members.
So why do I now want to get closer to Alan than I did when we were colleagues? The obvious answer is “Distance makes the Hart grow fonder”. We have both endured compulsory retirement at much the same time and this has forged a bond between us, since being forced to abandon the daily occupation you have dedicated your life to is brutal. All that false bonhomie of congratulations for being able now to do what we like makes having access to a fellow sufferer doubly necessary. Alan has filmed two interviews with me and this brought us closer. I am grateful to him for his open interest in and admiration for my teaching and writing methods. We have both uploaded a lot of lectures on YouTube. They are different in style, as we are, but I am proud to think that two old farts like us have played a pioneering role at this epochal time, by being open to new possibilities while drawing on our old school skills. Each of us, emulating our master (Jack), has hit a purple patch of publishing, although I have a long way to go before I come close to either of them.
The resemblance in the pattern of our lives seems to become stronger over time. Since I left the institutional closure of Cambridge, I have come to rely heavily on a virtual social and intellectual life; and this too sharpens my awareness of what Alan and I have in common. Alan once told me that he considered himself to be Dugald Stewart reincarnate. These were probably not his actual words, but he wasn’t joking. Neither of us has ever allowed modesty to limit our ambition. There is no point in settling for second best or worse. We may each end up only as a very minor footnote in intellectual history, but there is no harm in aiming for the top. This aspiration is matched by a shared interest in autobiography. I believe we still have a lot to learn from each other and I hope we can find the means of doing so at distance. Given our mutual commitment to engaging with the digital revolution in communications, this should not be impossible.
Demonstrating the Naga videodisc on the radio: “Now, I’m just going to type ‘head racks’ into the search box here…’ tap, tap, tap in the background…
An initial meeting in The Eagle of immortal memory…
“Tim and Charles have said so much about this Muscat system you have written…” (What is this leading up to?)
Hosting the room where I met John Snyder, of whom I had heard so much. Why wasn’t he a weather-tanned bearded anthropologist like the rest of them?
Proud of his laptop, working at the barn in Stow-cum-Quy [Lode], thinking, has he read all these books?
I will remember being mentored with skill, kindness and sympathy! Fondest wishes, Susan
It was such a pleasure teaching together with you each February on the Strategies course. But one thing sticks in my gullet – in all those years you were flooded with Valentine messages from the students, and I never got one.
Could it be that you’re a brilliant, sympathetic and much loved teacher, or is it simply that you’ve hung onto your hair? (or more than I have)
Have a wonderful next epoch. Martin
It is eleven years since I first walked into your rooms at King’s to experience the serene calmness of your wisdom. Through your eyes and experience I began to see the Modern World in a different way. What a wonderful story the Tea and Tokyo tale was. How I longed to see the village of Thak after your description. How the seeds of that conversation triggered vision on the drive home of a new way of making these documentaries – in a writes of backward leaps starting from a single day.
In a way, ‘The Day the World Took Off’ for me, was that day – Monday, June 8 1998. When I first entered G2, I was rather intimidated by the grandeur of it all. I came out feeling as if I’d had an awakening – a meeting with a remarkable man – that would be a turning point in my life. It’s hard to explain, but it did feel an almost transcendental experience. I floated out of the room into another meeting, but I couldn’t concentrate on what the man was saying because my mind was still racing with what you’d been saying.
After working with you on the television series, I never really saw the world in the same way again. Our collaboration was one of the most enjoyable and important highlights of my life making documentaries.
Our shared journeys with Sarah to Nepal, Japan and China include some of my most cherished memories. Your family in Thak, that incredible feast where they carried the disassembled bullock up the hill; the bizarre protocol of the tea ceremony; the bullet train to Kyoto and later in Szechuan following in the footsteps of Isabella Bird. You and Sarah are the bet possible travel companions – full of curiosity and zest – always enjoying each new experience with relish.
The memories could fill a book (some of them already have!) so what else is left to say? Only that you are a patient and inspirational teacher, a great story-teller and a loyal friend. I wish I’d had a teacher like you when I was a student. At least my son, Christopher got that chance. I know he, and thousands of others, will never forget your lectures. They set out on their lives seeing beyond the surface of the material world – and they owe those insights to you.
I wish you the very best as a Life Fellow at King’s – and hope this means that in the future there will be more time for more shared adventures.
With warmest regards and greatest respect, David
The kindness you and Sarah showed us when we returned from Brazil was immense and allowed us to restart our lives in Cambridge. Thank you. You have been an important catalyst for me, enabling things to happen. As you know, I am still collaborating with colleagues you introduced to me five years ago and I think we are producing ground-breaking open source software which itself is being fed back into the Community for the benefit of academia and many others.
Of course, you will never really retire and I look forward to sharing ideas and more interesting conversations over the coming years.
Thanks for everything!
With best wishes, Chris, Val, Elise and Charles
I was very sorry to miss your retirement do. I would have loved to have come, though, especially because of the many fond memories I have of our conversations over the years - you've been very supportive of me (e.g. when I was trying to get my book published) and I enjoyed working with you on things like the Department website and in teaching in general. I'm especially grateful to you for our discussions at the time of the war in Iraq - when it seemed to me that all debate on the topic had been shut down, you articulated the lucid point-by-point case against the conflict which I felt so few people bothered to make (you probably won't recall, but my concern was that I felt I - and a lot of other people in Europe - had such a slim grasp of what was going on in the Middle East that I didn't feel qualified to have a view - other than one based on principle alone - as to whether intervention was likely to be of benefit to Iraqi people or not). As in so many other areas, history has proved you right! Anyway, I trust you will enjoy your retirement very much! I doubt you will be retiring from the intellectual life of Cambridge at large (nor indeed from the intellectual life of the Internet, where I look forward to staying in touch!) With the very warmest wishes for a stimulating and relaxing time, Lots of love, Ami
I am afraid that I cannot participate in your festivities this Saturday. I do want to say, however, that a man of wisdom is not measured by his books only (among yours, incidentally, I have found the ones on individualism and trust quite formative to my our thinking) but also by how he conducts himself in life beyond scholarship. In this regard you will be a model for me, touched as I was by the time you took to discuss with me the passing of my father in 2005. Such civility is sadly a rarity among us academics. Add to this your consistently balanced contribution to meetings etc. and all I can say is that I will greatly miss your presence in the Department.
Wishing you well in your new life, Harri
I just got your letter about your party on 4th July - the Argentinean postal system is worse than the Bolivian one, rather surprisingly. But at least it gives me the chance to send you a (more reliable) message before the big day - I'll still be out here, so can't come in person.
I'm really glad that your book on Cambridge will be published, I certainly really enjoyed reading it. I expect that it will be lovely to be able to hold it in your hands so soon after retiring from the department, and I'm glad you're not retiring completely. Also, I don't think that I have told you, but I think that your book on witchcraft is one of the reasons that I began to make the switch from History to Anthropology - it was one of those that led me to take what I now know to be a more anthropological approach to history as an undergraduate. At that time I was totally fascinated by witchcraft in early modern Europe, I think because many of the books on that period/theme were so rich (yours, Keith Thomas, Lyndal Roper, Natalie Zemon Davis). I initially wanted to combine that thematic perspective with a growing regional interest in Latin America, but got diverted. Anyway, I hope to make the move across disciplines as successfully as you have, and even though it does come out strangely in black and white, I wanted to tell you that you are an inspiration to me. I'm sure I'm not the only person to tell you this. So, thank you! Because I am hugely glad to have discovered anthropology and to have shifted, much as I still love history. I hope that you have a lovely time next week.
I feel very privileged for having to know you in your last years at the Dept. Thank you for your wit and wisdom and company during this time. But most of all, thank you for that remarkable trip to Nepal in April 2008, and for not braining me when I made that remark about walking through the streets of Pokhara with … well, you know the rest.
Happy Retirement! Liana
Very sorry to miss your party… Instead let me take this opportunity to wish you all the best for your “next phase”. The Department will be a much poorer place for your (relative) absence. Your wit, wisdom and generosity have been a great example to us all. Yours etc. Martin
I first remember you as a very shy youngster in Sedbergh’s sixth form, obviously able and studious, but unwilling to show your true colours, largely, I think, through lack of self-confidence and, perhaps, a set of mores which encouraged reticence. During your time in Clio, where you rapidly developed your scholastic abilities, I believe that the best thing I did for you was to lend you a copy of Norman Douglas’s “South Wind”, which opened you to values other than the inhibiting puritan mores of your childhood and of Sedbergh.
After Sedbergh I lost touch with you until a review of your “Origins of English Individualism” in The Listener woke me to the stature of your achievement as a scholar and author. So I wrote, intending to thank and praise you, but, in fact, crudely kicking you in the groin by asking why you needed to write the book at all when it was all old hat. Your most unhuffy response was to enlighten me about the Marxist take-over since my student days. I was hopelessly out of date. At that point my education began again – and after my retirement, has continued ever since, thanks to your marvellous generosity in letting me into your workshop.
I know you will, once again, thank me profusely for the comments I made over the last twenty years or so on early drafts of several of your books, but in truth the debt is properly the other way round. It is not just the stimulus that your drafts have given me – a necessary challenge to decaying wits – but the experience has also been for me a double lesson in humility. First, it taught me how limited my knowledge was – a mere historian does not have the range that you as a social anthropologist have. And secondly I marvel at your ability to invite, listen to, consider and, so often, accept the jejeune comments of one who is a mere apprentice in your world-embracing workshop.
I could go on at length about your vast range of studies, your colossal energy and your widely spoken-of talents as a much-loved tutor, supervisor and lecturer. Others must testify to those. Let me finish by thanking you, most of all, for the enduring and supportive friendship that both you and Sarah have given Jilyan and myself over the years.
With gratitude, Andrew
I have been checking dates. I joined the Essex Record Office in the late summer of 1962, so you must have been one of the first research students I met. I remember very well the old office – a grand total of four inter-connecting rooms – and of being allowed to look on in the Students’ Room as dear Hilda Grieve introduced you to the arcane forms and phraseology of the Archdeacon’s court – with an array of court books open on the table in front of us.
Only a very few years later we stated the ‘Stuart Essex’ exhibition, with a great deal of help and encouragement from you, I seem to remember. We borrowed Ralph Josselin’s diary for that exhibition with all that led to. You were the front-runner, the standard bearer, for a whole generation of historians, both social and political, who chose to base their research on Essex materials. It was a great satisfaction first to Hilda, and then to Nancy Briggs, to see the shelf of doctoral theses grow larger and larger.
But most of all, Alan, I recall your friendship, and generosity, with visits to Kings and to Dent. The discussions with you, and the others who followed in your wake, made the job of an Assistant Archivist feel worth doing – it certainly made it enjoyable.
For this, and much more, it gives me enormous pleasure to send my very best wishes on this occasion. Arthur
Memories - I have so many I could write my own book. I remarked to a colleague this morning that if it were not for you and Sarah I would not be sitting here. 'Can you type?' you asked one day, and it changed my life forever as I moved over from sewing Clive's books and helping with Bracton Books to the wider world of Alan Macfarlane. 30,000 little pieces of paper I seem to remember - who invented this system of indexing, was it Jack Goody, I forget. Anyway, I became an expert at deciphering your handwriting and almost had withdrawal symptoms when it was all over.
I helped with the Earls Colne work, the Gurung book and reference checking in The Savage Wars of Peace. And of course there was dear Ron, who started by transforming the bindery and went on to dig out your well (in the snow), build your walk-in shower, fashion an artifacts area in the top of your library, and of course the Morse house - designed on the back of an envelope I seem to remember. When it was finished Ron and I had the honour of spending the first night in there. You held a Japanese tea ceremony for us and when the bowl was passed to Ron he completely forgot the appropriate Japanese words and mumbled something like 'Toshiba, Mitsibushi' in reverend tones. We also made a Gurung hut in the museum, what fun we had with that! So we both owe you an awful lot. Your understanding of our developing relationship in difficult times will never be forgotten. Do you realise we have been together for 21 years now, where have those years gone! I could expand but I must get on! Love, Penny
I did not feel able to write in your memory book amidst the crowd, but I will always remember you as generous and helpful to me and everyone regardless of their rank and role. Although I know that you will be moving into another interesting phase in your career and will continue with your prolific writings, I wonder how the Department will ever recover from the loss of your benign presence. I think it is rare for prominent academics like yourself to reach the top of their profession and still retain their humanity and genuine concern for others, and for me that counts above all else.
‘If it hadna been for FLASH COMPANY…’: from East Suffolk to West Mongolia with your help Alan! Thanks for all, Carole X
I have been thinking about what to put in your memory book, and think... You have been one of the most important people in my life, as your support when I was struggling with my PhD made a difference to what followed for me, and the happy times I then spent working in various jobs and 8 happy years at the LSE, and some years afterwards in the Department in Cambridge. Since we first met in 1973 and I sat in your lectures on subjects as various as witchcraft and Elizabethan cod-pieces, I have always enjoyed your company, your intellect and great sense of humour. Lots of love for the future, Pat
Gerry Martin [deceased]
[Letter of 3 August 1995]
Another year flies by – another year in which you have most skillfully guided my reading and my thoughts into the most interesting areas imaginable. I am most deeply appreciative and the enclosed is, among other things, a small toke of my thanks. Best wishes to both of you. Gerry.
[Letter of 19th May 1996]
We have embarked on a project together which I find wonderful – exhilarating and completely fulfilling… [but if things change]… then I would like you to feel completely free to make use of any contribution I may have made in any way you wish, with our without acknowledgement.
With great admiration and affection, Gerry
Among other subjects, I seem to have developed some modest ability to teach Anthropology students about the history of their own discipline and, hopefully, to pass on the enthusiasm that so many others showed me. Where ever I have lectured, my students invariably hear the following story.
Some memories are stronger than others; and some memories have particular resonance within oneself. For me, a special memory will always be located in a stage of my PhD studies when, after returning from the field, I was 'officeless'. This term refers to how the Department of Anthropology gave senior postgraduate students invaluable support by finding desk space for them in one of the several rooms under its control within the University. Because of ongoing renovations, I was without a desk space for a time - but very keen to push through the writing in a concerted attempt and knowing that I needed a bit of quiet to really work hard. Aware of this predicament, Alan generously 'loaned' me the compact, second desk in his office for several crucial weeks. The desk was bare except for a small pile of neat but musty notebooks perched at the top right-hand corner. After the Department was able to find another student desk space for me, and my time was up in Alan's office, I thanked him (several times) and began to gather my own things from the desk. Alan stopped me, pointed to the notebooks still perched at the top right-hand corner and - completely nonchalantly - asked if I had recognized them. I replied in truth that as they were Alan's things, I had not even opened one - let alone started to read. He than suggested I take a look, and encouraged me further by pulling out a notebook from the bottom of the pile. He opened its pages to the beginning lines of.... the last chapter of The Golden Bough. For these precious weeks, I had been diligently writing my doctoral thesis - but an elbow-nudge away from James Frazier's original notebooks for an anthropological masterpiece. Frazer's work was a precedent that set the stage for so much to follow; the honour was mine; the thoughtfulness, intellectual appreciation and generosity were Alan's.
Thank you. And in my own office, I have a small, second desk for the use of research students to this day. Andre Czegledy
Thank you for this wonderful party which brings together so many friends and family from both your professional and private lives. My own memories of being in Cambridge and visiting your lovely house and garden and walking with you across the ‘forbidden’ front lawn or gazing up at the play of sunlight across the columns subtle coloured by the stained grass in the chapel. But mostly you and Sarah’s friendship which I treasure.
Those sessions where we talked about nothing less than the history of the world taught me many things – but perhaps the most important was the excitement of being a scholar. The spark that sent me off on the trail of the Scarlet Pimpernel – and determined the way I have spent the last four years of my life – Started in your barn.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to record some brief thoughts of our relationship over the past decade or so.
Your kindness and generosity to me personally and also to Christopher has been so very much appreciated and the many Conferences that brought us together with Gerry Martin were not only very profound and penetrating in their discussions but also of lasting scientific and cultural importance.
With our very best wishes to you and Sarah for the future. Howard and Judith.
Even amateur historians end up focusing on a small number of areas of interest, due to the scarce nature of time and energy. I found that the thread that weaves together many of my amateur interests has been the question: Why the West? As it happened, I and some friends came upon the extraordinarily valuable writing on this question by Prof. Macfarlane, most especially his "Modern World" books. Due to the miracle of the Internet, I was able to engage in a conversation with Alan, from time to time, over the last several years, regarding his work. His graciousness in engaging in this dialogue with an enthusiastic "fan", when he certainly has lots of important things to do, is very greatly appreciated. I hope one day to meet Alan in person, though email friendships do have a charm all their own, and can be very valuable. I look forward eagerly to his forthcoming book on Cambridge, and the various other writings he will produce for our edification and enjoyment in the course of what I trust will be a long, productive and not terribly retiring "retirement". Best wishes to Alan, his family, friends, colleagues and students on this happy occasion. Michael J. Lotus, Chicago.
Thank you, you’ve changed my life in such a big way, I really can’t express how grateful I am.
First of all you made me obsessed with anthropology from the very first time I met you but now, after only knowing you for a few years, I have bought a house in Thak!
You’re an inspiration to us all and the Best of Luck for the future.
Lots and lots of Love, Rachel xxx
You introduced me to Thak, and were my first lecturer in social anthropology. My introduction into anthropology would not have been the same without you! I hope we can still talk over tea in King’s. Lots of love, Krystyna
As you poke your head through the door and look out towards your new path, pause, take a moment and look back over your shoulder…
Behind you will see all those whose lives you have touched with your kindness, generosity, warmth, and sparkling intelligence… we are all wishing, cheering and waving to you and wishing you and Sarah good health, happiness and many many years of new challenges…
Do not forget us … as we cannot forget you…
Richard Rhodes James
I have known Alan since he was very young. He remains young. I saw him start to work. He is always working. And he always will. Richard his uncle.
Matthew Blakely [son in law]
I’d like to thank you enormously for your generosity and support. If it wasn’t for that I don’t think I’d be making pots now and for that I’m hugely grateful. Matt