I have been very sad to discover (on twitter) that David Lowenthal, the great historian, social geographer, and student of public institutions of history has died.
I got to know him in the late 1980s when he set up a postgraduate research seminar at the Warburg Institute on ‘The Uses of the Past’ jointly with Peter Burke. It attracted an eclectic group of people from museums, including Robert Bud from the Science Museum and Nick Merriman, now the Director of the Horniman Museum, as well as a group of us from the V&A. I remember it as an exhilirating period of intellectual enquiry about the nature of museums and how they interpret and present history, some of which had been evident in David’s great book The Past is a Foreign Country, first published in 1985.
I have kept in touch with him ever since, meeting not as often as I would have liked, in his rambling house in Harrow-on-the-Hill and more recently on Marylebone High Street, or at our house, where he complained about having to go home in spite of being well into his nineties.
Over the years, I got to know elements of his history: a period teaching in the West Indies in the 1950s; a long period working for the Institute of Race Relations under Philip Mason, a mentor to him, in the 1960s; a Professor of Geography in the University of London from 1972. The point was that he was old and wise, unbelievably well read on every topic, and fascinatingly unclassifiable as a man of learning like his books.