Pioneer of India and South Asia studies inspired a generation of students

Pioneer of India and South Asia studies inspired a generation of students

Donald Anthony Low (1927–2015)

Anthony Low, the third president of the ASAA in 1981–2 and vice-chancellor of the Australian National University from 1975–82, died on 12 February in Canberra after a struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Born in Nanital in north India (his father was a missionary in Allahabad), Low was an outstanding scholar not only of modern India but of Africa. His last major monograph, Fabrication of Empire: the British and the Uganda Kingdoms, 1890–1902, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009 when he was 82.

For scholars of Asia, however, Low’s singular contribution was to establish study of modern India and South Asia deeply in the Australian university system. His first academic appointment after leaving Oxford was at Makerere College in Uganda.

As a part-time correspondent for The Times of London, he met Keith Hancock when Hancock visited on a colonial mission. Accepting Hancock’s invitation, Low joined the history department at the expanding Australian National University (ANU) in 1959. He began to convert himself into a scholar of India and was taught, he used to say, by his first three PhD students, Peter Reeves, John Broomfield and Ravinder Kumar.

The number of graduate students working on India grew, and in 1968, Low edited a landmark collection—Soundings in Modern South
Asian History, published by the University of California Press. His former students began to populate universities in Australia, India, the UK and North America.

He became foundation dean of the School of African and Asian Studies at Sussex University in Britain from 1968–71, but returned to Australia in 1971, first as director of the Research School of Pacific Studies at ANU and then ANU’s vice-chancellor. He was Smuts Professor of Commonwealth History at Cambridge University from 1983–95 and President of Clare Hall, Cambridge, from 1983–97 after which he returned to Australia.

Low’s reputation as an exemplary teacher and supervisor meant that graduate students constantly sought him as a supervisor. That reputation owed a good deal to his wife Belle, who fed and ministered to a host of graduate students and their families from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America for 50 years. The couple met in Zanzibar in the 1950s where she was a nurse. Belle and three children, Adam, Angela and Penelope, and three grandchildren, survive him.

ANU plans a memorial ceremony for Low on 31 July, and a number of his former students will hold an academic event, called ‘Soundings and echoes’, on the same day.

Robin Jeffrey

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