Tribute to Celia Kerslake 1946 – 2023

Celia will be much missed by all those who knew and worked with her in Oxford – at St Antony’s, within the Faculty of Oriental Studies (as it was then called) and the wider Turkish Studies community.

Celia was educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School before taking a Double First in Oriental Studies (Turkish and Arabic) from Girton College, Cambridge. She embarked on her doctorate in 1968 under the supervision of Dick Repp at St Anne’s College, producing a translation and critical edition of a historical text, written sometime between 1557 and 1566, concerning the rise to power and the achievements of Sultan Selim I.

Following her doctoral studies, Celia held research fellowships at, first, New Hall in Cambridge and then Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, before taking up what was initially a temporary post but soon became a permanent lectureship at the University of Edinburgh in 1980. She remained in Edinburgh until she took up the University Lectureship in Turkish with a Fellowship at St Antony’s in October 1988 succeeding Geoffrey Lewis.

Celia was a stalwart of the St Antony’s community for the following 23 years. She filled two of the key college posts, Senior Tutor and Tutor for Admissions, during much of the 1990s. She was also a vital member of key committees in the Faculty of Oriental Studies where generations of students had particular reason to be grateful to her for her detailed drafting of the Grey Book of Exam Regulations.

Upon her retirement in 2011, Celia was elected to an Emeritus Fellowship and remained very involved in the College’s academic activities, in particular the SEESOX programme, and was a regular attendee of MEC and other College events.

Celia was a scholar of the old school. She set very high standards in her teaching and research – for both herself and others. She was unhappy by what she saw as the dilution of the undergraduate degree in Turkish which she oversaw in the 1990s but at the same time worried if the applicants would be good enough for such a rigorous programme. Once applicants were admitted, however, she would do everything in her power to get them through and she was secretly delighted when she won a well-deserved Teaching Award, nominated by her students, in 2009.

Celia’s control of Turkish language sources was legendary, and many Turkish colleagues said her accent and expression were indistinguishable as non-native. She published a series of important scholarly papers throughout her career, but she was best known for her book Turkish: An Essential Grammar, published by Routledge in 2010. She was currently working on a second edition with her long-time writing colleague, Asli Goksel, with whom she was in discussion the day before she died.

Where next?