Historian Barun De dead

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 18.07.13

Barun De, the eloquent historian who specialised in India’s social and economic history in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bengal Renaissance and British constitutional history, died in Calcutta on Wednesday after a prolonged illness.

He was 81 and is survived by wife Rama Bai, son Bikramjit and daughter Urmila.

De, who was born in October 30, 1932, into an illustrious Brahmo family, studied at Presidency College, where his teacher was eminent historian Sushobhan Chandra Sarkar. Years later, his son, Professor Sumit Sarkar, studied under De in the same college. After his graduation, De went to St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, to complete a second BA in history, and later obtained an MA from the University of Oxford.

In the late 1950s, De was lecturer at Calcutta University. He completed his D.Phil in Indian history at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 1961. His Oxford thesis, completed under the supervision of Dr C.C. Davies, was entitled Henry Dundas and the Government of India: A Study in Constitutional Ideas.

De has held several prestigious academic positions since, and was a member of many organisations. He set up institutions like the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences and the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

He was senior professor of social and economic history at IIM Calcutta and director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences for two terms from 1973 to 1993. He was Maulana Azad Fellow at the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

De was also chairman of the West Bengal Heritage Commission from 2008 to 2011, on the board of trustees of the Victoria Memorial Hall and a member of the governing body of Indian Museum.

His former student, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, a former vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati, said: “In a simple word he was a veritable fountain of knowledge.” Calcutta University VC Suranjan Das, another former student of De, spoke of De’s ability to inspire students to think afresh and the ability to set up institutions.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta, director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said De was an inspiring figure and a scholar with a wide range. He was an important academician who looked for people from diverse disciplines to join the centre.