Dr David Washbrook (1948-2021)

A message from the Warden, Professor Roger Goodman, on the passing away of Dr David Washbrook (Emeritus Fellow):

‘I am sorry to have to pass on the sad news that David Washbrook passed away peacefully at home last Sunday (24 January). He was 72 years old last April and had been recently diagnosed with cancer.  

David grew up in Streatham in South London.  He was a History undergraduate at Trinity in Cambridge, following which he went on to do his PhD, also at Trinity in Cambridge, with Anil Seal and Jack Gallagher, before taking up his first academic job in the History Department at Warwick. He moved to Oxford as the Reader in Indian History at St Antony’s College (in succession to Tapan Raychaudri) in 1993. In 2007, he was elected to a prestigious Class B Fellowship at Trinity College Cambridge. David also had two stints overseas as a Visiting Professor, at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard (in 1986). 

On taking up his position at Trinity, David was elected an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s and – even though his academic position has been in Cambridge for more than a decade – he kept his primary residence in Oxford and was a loyal attendee of seminars on South Asia in the Asian Studies Centre and a regular visitor to the College. This only means that we will feel his passing all that more keenly.   

David’s scholarship spanned a huge range of topics in South Asian history–on politics (especially South India), political economy, social history, historiography/theory, and the eighteenth century—and was widely respected by academics in both the early modern and modern history of the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean as well as those in global history more generally. He was widely known and respected as a mentor and teacher and accounts of his huge generosity and kindness to students and colleagues have already appeared in social media accounts. It says a great deal about the affection in which he was held by those with whom he worked that a major conference was held – and a Festschrift published – to mark his 65th birthday in 2014. The introduction to that set of papers in the journal Modern Asian Studies can be read online and provides a glimpse into the extraordinary influence that his work has had on generations of scholars of South Asia over four decades: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/F1CA6BEB8065D9F7F1C441AF08310AE0/S0026749X17000117a.pdf/introduction.pdf 

There is a wonderful line in the above introduction which reads: ‘Any discussion of David Washbrook’s contributions to history would be incomplete without mention of his flair for critique and taste for polemic’. David’s ‘flair for critique and taste for polemic’ also made him one of the most entertaining members of the St Antony’s Governing Body. He chaired a series of major college committees, including the Property Committee, and could be relied upon not only to undertake his responsibilities seriously but also with imperturbable good humour at a time when the College was going through some very difficult challenges. That is how we will remember him. We are collectively very much in his debt and he will be much missed. 

The College flag will be flown at half-mast in memory of David.’   

Roger Goodman, Warden

External Links: 

The Wire obituary

Himal obituary

Trinity College, Cambridge tribute

Cambridge History Department obituary


Where next?