In October 2015 UCL and the wider scholarly community lost Professor Lisa Jardine CBE FRS. I was lucky, during her time at UCL, to get to know her both as a colleague, mentor, and friend. My blog has been sitting here waiting for me to write a few words on Lisa, although there are so many excellent obituaries and memorial columns out there: try the Guardian piece, or Kate Maltby’s tribute, to get a flavour of both Lisa’s achievements, and her character. There’s also the 10 minute segment on BBC Radio 4’s The Final Word (which I was honoured to be ask to contribute to) which sums up Lisa in her own words, and those of others.
Yesterday (19th January 2016) we held a memorial at Senate House in London for Lisa. I had two jobs there – since she became ill earlier in the Autumn I’ve been Acting Interim Director for Lisa’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, a role Lisa had asked me to take on to help her team over this period as we plan for their future. 350 attendees came to what turned out to be a joyous celebration of her academic life and work, hosted jointly by UCL, the University of London, and Queen Mary. I have to thank the CELL team for their work in organising such a large event at relatively short notice.
I was asked to give the tribute from Lisa’s time at UCL – and had only five minutes to do so (eek). There were other speakers from UoL, QM, etc, and the event was filmed and will be made available online at a future date once the recordings are processed. But I wanted to share with you here – at last! – my few words about Lisa Jardine.
It’s an honour to be asked to say a few words about Lisa Jardine: unlike many of you, I only got to know Lisa over the last three years, during her time at UCL. In the summer of 2012 I went on holiday – and came back to the news: Lisa Jardine was here! Her reputation, of course, preceded her: both the prodigious scholarly output, and her fearless personality.
I first encountered that personality within UCL’s various managerial committees. In those, she played academia for the sport it is –with great glee, but seriously: navigating university structures to get exactly what she wanted, even if she had to strategically burn bridges to do so. Lisa knew she was the real deal, providing a different type of role model for many of us: a woman at the top of the academic game.
The Lisa I got to know was not resting on past glories: she had work to do at UCL, and every conversation we had was about the future: The Big Books, The Big Grants, she would call it. Amidst the routine tussles of academia, Lisa impressed upon me again and again that what really mattered was the Big Work: and the quality of the words that you chose to put out there. Let me summarise a few things, in particular, that stand out for me during Lisa’s time at UCL.
Archives were Lisa’s bailiwick, but she intuitively understood computational technologies, and the potentials in digital humanities techniques for her area and era of study. We see this in the highly prestigious Mellon-funded “Archaeology of Reading” project that she established at UCL (with John Hopkins and Princeton): the Big Grant if you will, using innovative digital tools to analyse personal annotations in early printed books. This was the fruition of years of Lisa’s research at the juncture of the digital and the archival, advancing both early modern scholarship on the history of reading practices, and sharing both data and technological methods to allow others to also do so.
We also see Lisa’s commitment to recent, online developments in the dissemination of scholarship: she realised the power of publishing her research in open access, to reach as wide an audience as possible. Lisa was delighted to have what was to be her last book, Temptation in the Archives, be the first publication from the recently rebooted UCL Press: freely available online, as well as purchasable in print. She told me that UCL had given her a home, and what could she give them in return? Her words.
We see Lisa’s playful nature in her approach to social media: she loved Twitter, with its debate and badinage. That’s how me met, properly. We bantered on Twitter: she turned up at my office door, and announced she was going to be my mentor. That, too, I learnt, was typical Lisa behaviour.
Which brings me to Lisa, and her collection of people. Alongside all her printed and broadcast and silicon words, Lisa knew the power of regular chinwags, the benefits of a cupcake and a good glass of wine. Lisa’s Centre for Editing Lives and Letters – the “CELL Extended Family” she always called it – was an extension of family to her, and she found the time to identify and foster a whole motley physical network of us who she saw something in, something she could support, and encourage to “behave badly”, to achieve.
I have to pause here and thank core members of the CELL Extended Family: Dr Matthew Symonds for his compering, Dr Robyn Adams, who was Lisa’s right hand woman for over 15 years, being at CELL since its inception, and Lucy Stagg, the CELL coordinator, for their organisation of this memorial service. Given their incredibly close relationship with Lisa, it’s understandable why you have me speaking here about her time at UCL instead of them.
The CELL events were a joy: the weekly Director’s seminars were a hubbub of energy, debate, and team bonding: discussions of shoes, what was on at the London theatre, and commonly used abbreviations in 16th century diaries. What is a text, anyway? Discuss. I had a standing invitation to attend the seminars – I wish now I had gone to more. Once a year Lisa threw the CELL Gala Party, drawing together colleagues and friends for an evening of debate and victuals. I missed the last Gala event: I had another scholarly commitment. “Oh don’t worry” said Lisa. “There will be other parties. There will always be other parties!” And here we are today.
Yes, the Lisa I knew was always planning ahead, and even when what she called the “great unmentionable” was upon her, she was still looking towards the future: The Big Book, The Big Grant, making sure the CELL Extended Family would be looked after. The last time I heard from Lisa, it was only two weeks before she passed. For a woman so full of so many types of words, it had all gone understandably quiet, and we all waited for news. She sent me a text. One word. It simply said: “Hurray!” Hurray. And that meant a lot of things, concluding a conversation we had kept up for three years – but it summed up, right ‘til the end, Lisa’s bright spirit, her humour, her spark, her willpower, and her joy in being absolutely herself when faced with expectations of how one should behave. UCL is incredibly proud to have had Professor Lisa Jardine with us, and I’m lucky to have got to know her reasonably well in her time here. I was asked to say a few words about Lisa, but I leave you with only one, both in sadness, and in celebration. Lisa Jardine: Hurray!