Anthony Kirk-Greene

Anthony Kirk-Greene (b.1925) died aged 93 on 8th July.  Above all Tony was an enormously hardworking and committed historian of Africa and of the colonial era.  As a young man he served in the army in India, during and immediately after the war, and then followed a successful career in the Colonial Service in Nigeria (1950-60).  He also taught as a founding member of staff at Ahmadu Bello University (1961-65).  This background gave him a lengthy and distinctive experience in Africa that few British-based Africanists now replicate.  He learnt Hausa and he saw colonial rule from the inside in an area where it was relatively short-lived and constrained.

Tony was in some respects a man of his time and yet in important ways transcended this.  He is best-known for his extraordinary knowledge and prolific writing on the British colonial service.  Yet his earlier work especially demonstrated his ethnographic interests (Adamawa Past and Present, 1958); his expertise in Hausa language and culture (A Modern Hausa Reader, 1967); and his concern to explain the complexities of Nigerian civil war and Nigerian politics. In addition to papers he produced an invaluable sourcebook on Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria (1971) and an introduction to Nigeria since 1970 (1981).  His work on the colonial service has provided a very valuable resource for scholars in many fields of African history and, despite his immersion, he could be sharply critical of individuals and gently sceptical about its structures.

Tony came to St Antony’s in 1967 on a five-year fellowship.  He taught undergraduates on the African papers for PPE and Modern History and supervised many students doing topics in African and colonial history.  With the strong support of College warden Raymond Carr, he was reappointed as a Senior Research Fellow till retirement in 1992 and he taught enthusiastically throughout his appointment.  He also directed the Foreign Service Programme.  Tony understood and accommodated the increasingly Africanist perspectives in British and American African Studies.  He built and nurtured a strong network of colleagues in the United States as well as Britain and Africa. Throughout his career, he was a wonderful resource for those studying West Africa and hosted a wide range of visitors from Nigeria, till well after retirement, who showed him great affection and respect.  He helped to make St Antony’s a key centre for the study of Africa within the University.

One of Tony’s major legacies to the University was his assiduous work on the Colonial Records Project at Rhodes House and on its successor, the Development Records Project, as Director 1980-84.  He wrote countless letters, organised workshops and meetings and succeeded in regenerating this unparalleled archive with a large number of collections, particularly relating to agriculture, education and medicine.  As just one small example of this legacy, papers were secured on education in colonial Nigeria including material from British teachers at Umuahia College, the leading school in south-eastern Nigeria.  These and other materials in Oxford provided a rich resource for a recent prize-winning study by (former SAM) Terri Ochiaga about Chinua Achebe and his friends in their youth and the making of Nigeria’s first generation of literary giants.    

When I first came to the College in 1997, Tony was a supportive member of the African Studies seminar and programme.  He attended many Thursday seminars and made an effort to get to know a new generation of staff and graduate students studying Africa.  He was particularly generous in supporting a junior research fellowship, travel grants for students to research in African countries, as well as a prize for dissertations on Africa.   When we established a full African Studies Centre in the university for the first time (2002), with continuing close links to the College, and were eventually able to secure a building, we named a Kirk-Greene seminar room in recognition of Tony’s  sustained support for African Studies.  He contributed important building blocks.  During his time at the College, there were two or three Fellows specialising in Africa.  There are now 8 or 9 with such expertise.  Raufu Mustapha – sadly recently deceased – David Pratten and Wale Adebanwi have ensured that Nigeria specifically remains an important focus of attention at the College.

William Beinart
Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and Fellow of St Antony’s College (1997 to 2015)

External Links: 

Telegraph Obituary