In Memoriam: Professor Lisa Jardine

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I’ve had two truly memorable interviews in my life. In one, one of the interviewers was clearly drunk, and her colleague was more interested in giving her the stink eye than in interviewing me – yet I got the job anyway.

In the other, for a place at university, the professor was clearly enjoying it hugely. Finally she turned around, and said that I had the place if I wanted it, as she was delighted to interview someone switching from studying physics at Imperial to english literature at QMW (now QMUL).

“I’m so bored of interviewing people with double English and History,” said Professor Lisa Jardine. And then she gave me my second chance at a university education in a way that completely changed my life.

She died at the weekend, and we are poorer for it.

Memories of Lisa Jardine

Professor Lisa jardine

Image courtesy of The Royal Society

Her lectures were free-flowing and rambunctious. She talked with us, not at us. It made her lectures one of the highlights of my week, and has deeply influenced my own lecturing style, now I have my own little foothold in academia.

She never scheduled anything for her undergrads before 10am while I was there because “she had teenagers and knew there was no point”.

She brought a human, likeable face to academic success – and rigour – and that, along with her recruitment policies (favouring mature students and those from unusual background) made for a dynamic English Department. Yes, English Department – she was head of that department when I studied under her. Not History. Not Science. But that’s the thing about polymaths – they don’t respect the boundaries of these categories.

Many of her obituaries have highlighted this side of her character:

She could properly be called a polymath, fluent in five languages and, as comfortable with the sciences as she was with the humanities, the breadth of her scholarship and the depth of her understanding of so many subjects was awe-inspiring.

But it was obvious to all of us who studied under her. She was far more interested in the work that the games of position or form. She carried with her an intimidating – but inspiring – mix of enthusiasm and rigour. But most of all, she instilled in me healthy disrespect for the artificial ramming of knowledge and investigation into the little boxes we call “disciplines”. In that, she set the stage for my current “career”. And for that, I will ever be grateful to her.

I last spoke to her on my graduation day, where, as we shook hands on stage, I said “I didn’t expect to do this well.”

She gave me a huge grin, and replied: “I didn’t, either.” And then her grin grew wider. And that meant a lot more to me than the 2:1 I’d just been awarded.

Back in 2009, I blogged about her for the first Ada Lovelace Day. And in the years since I’ve enjoyed her books and her broadcasting. But most of all, I’ve made deep use of the lessons that she taught me that had nothing to do with English Literature.

RIP Professor Jardine. And thank you.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.