Peter Reeves (1935–2015)
Another pioneer of South Asian Studies in Australia died recently.
Peter Reeves, Emeritus Professor of South Asian History at Curtin University and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, passed away in Perth on 24 February 2015—12 days after the death of Professor Donald Anthony Low.
Peter Reeves was educated at the University of Tasmania and completed his PhD at the Australian National University. At the ANU he worked under Low’s guidance and alongside other talented PhD students examining the history of colonial India. Collectively, they were crucial to the emergence of South Asian studies in Australia in the early 1960s.
In 1963 Reeves took up a first appointment at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and he later worked at the University of Michigan and the University of Sussex before returning to a professorial appointment at UWA. He then served as deputy vice-chancellor of Curtin University (then known as the Western Australian Institute of Technology) before taking up a position as Professor of South Asian History and helping to establish a South Asia research unit at that institution.
While at Curtin he won several large competitive grants which enabled him to work with colleagues on various projects, including the history of colonial fisheries in South Asia. In 1999 he took up a position as the coordinator of a newly-established South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore. Working with great energy and enthusiasm with his colleagues, he was able to establish a vibrant and well-respected South Asian studies teaching and research program at NUS. During this highly productive time in Singapore he also served as the inaugural director of a new Centre for Language Studies at NUS.
His many publications included Landlords and governments in Uttar Pradesh: a study of their relations until zamindari abolition (Oxford University Press, 1991) a monograph based on his PhD research, which provided an acute analysis of the shifting pattern of political exchange between landlords in Uttar Pradesh and the colonial state.
In a series of journal articles he provided new insights into the history of fishers and marine resources in South Asia. During his time in Singapore, Reeves, alongside his co-editors (B.V. Lal and R. Rai), developed a first-of-its-kind publication: The encyclopedia of the Indian diaspora (1996). He later was the general editor for a successor publication —The encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan diaspora (2014)—working along with his editorial team even through periods of ill health.
As a scholar, Peter Reeves will be remembered with respect and honour for his many contributions to South Asian studies, most especially for extending our knowledge of the politics of land tenure in North India and the historical development of fisheries in colonial South Asia, and for his important role in building South Asian studies in Australia and Singapore.
As a person, he will be remembered with great affection—for wisdom and learning balanced by humility, as a steadfast friend and gracious host, and for his everyday kindness and generosity to colleagues and students.
He is survived by his ever-supportive and loving partner Noelene Reeves, their two children and eight grandchildren.
Photo: © State Library of Western Australia 2011.