Lisa Jardine, historian, humanist, daughter of Jacob Bronowski, dies

Historians in the News
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Thumbnail Image - "Professor Lisa Jardine CBE FRS" by Royal Society uploader - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Lisa Jardine, the historian, who has died of cancer aged 71, was the daughter of Jacob Bronowski, one of the 20th century’s greatest public intellectuals, and a woman for whom no more perfect title could be invented than the one she possessed: Professor of Renaissance Studies at University College, London. 

Lisa Jardine effortlessly straddled CP Snow’s “Two Cultures”; she studied both Mathematics and English at university, was fluent in eight languages including Ancient Greek and Latin, and wrote on everything from Shakespeare and Francis Bacon to feminist theory and the history of science. Her book Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory, about how the influence of Dutch thinkers and scientists reshaped England’s intellectual landscape in the 17th century, won the $75,000 Cundill International Prize in History in 2009. 

Lisa Jardine championed science to such an extent that she was made a council member of the Royal Institution (she resigned in protest when its director Susan Greenfield was made redundant in 2009) and served as head of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority from 2008 to 2014. She held an honorary fellowship of the Royal Society, winning an RS medal for popularising science, and was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In 2012-13 she served as president of the British Science Association – a rare honour for a historian.

Lisa Jardine’s limitless intellectual curiosity combined with a love of gossip and an easy familiarity with teenage slang made her a lecture-room star. With her raucous laugh and earthy sense of humour she was as comfortable addressing a general as an academic audience and forged a prolific career as a cultural commentator, able to stump up interesting or witty sound bites on almost any subject. 

She wrote and reviewed widely for the press, and for many years it was difficult to avoid her on the airwaves. She regularly hosted Night Waves, the Radio 3 evening arts programme, while on Radio 4 she often presented A Point of View, opining elegantly on everything from climate science to diary writing and the reputation of American presidents, and complemented Jeremy Paxman on Start the Week (“I’m the good cop, he’s the bad cop”). In 2013 she presented the station’s Seven Ages of Science series. She was also a regular guest on Question Time, Any Questions and Kaleidoscope and was ubiquitous on book prize judging panels. ...




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