Simon Digby, Historian

in univerCity

Via Naim Sahib comes the sad news that Simon Digby, 79, passed away in Delhi. Anyone who has touched any scholarly/popular work on medieval to colonial India – esp. aspects of religion and art – has seen the fruits of his amazing intellect reflected in those works.

I will try and find a full biography but let me note the following from on-line sources:

SIMON DIGBY is a former fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and a former assistant keeper in the Department of Eastern Art, the Ashmolean Museum. He continues to serve as honorary Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a position he has held since 1971. The foremost British scholar of pre-Mughal India, he has written numerous foundational essays on Indo-Persian Sufism as well as contributing to The Cambridge Economic History of India, volume 1.

In 1919 the Royal Asiatic Society established a formal lecture in the name of Sir Richard Burton, the British traveller, scholar and translator. In 1923 it decided to bestow a medal upon the lecturer. The recipient of the medal is required to have been not just a dry-as-dust scholar but someone who has actually engaged, as Burton did, with Asian societies in the field. Among recipients of the medal have been St John Philby and Freya Stark, both renowned for their Arabian explorations, and more recently W.G. Archer, the Indian Civil Servant who collected Indian village songs and tribal art as well as introducing courtly traditions in the visual arts to the general public, and David Snellgrove, the scholar-traveller in the Hindu-Buddhist worlds of South and Southeast Asia. In 1999 Simon Digby, the scholar of Indian Sufism, was the Burton lecturer.

And his list of publications.

A great loss.

update: More details on his life and times appear in Indian Express: After a lifetime loving India, historian Digby breathes his last: in Delhi (pdf). He was truly the last great orientalist (it is high time to reclaim that word from Said).

update 2: My thanks to Prof. Shahid Amin for sending in the photograph/pdf from Indian Express.

update 3: Photograph from Indian Express, Jan 15th.

update 4: An obit in Telegraph India by Rudrangshu:
Mukherjee: “Simon was one of the last of the truly amateur scholars.”

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