May 22, 2024

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Homage to a great scholar: Sylvia Kedourie


Sylvia Kedourie z”l

Sylvia Kedourie, who has died aged 90, was the widow of the historian Elie Kedourie and herself a distinguished scholar of the history of the Middle East. the Daily Telegraph carried this obituary:

She was born Sylvia Haim on December 19 1925 in Baghdad and educated there at the French-language Alliance Israélite Universelle girls’ school, where she experienced as an adolescent the growing oppression and persecution of Iraq’s two-and-a-half-millennia-old Jewish population.

Having travelled with her father and an elder sister to visit France and Britain in 1947, Sylvia enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study Philosophy.
She studied subsequently at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, before completing her doctoral thesis, at Edinburgh in 1953, on the ideas of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, the Syrian writer who in the late-19th century advocated an Arabian caliphate and became seen in the 20th century as a precursor of pan-Arab nationalism.

Her work in this field led to the publication in 1962 of the highly regarded Arab Nationalism: An Anthology, a selection of texts, preceded by her introduction, that has been of use to countless scholars and diplomats.

Her academic interests largely matched those of her husband whom she had first met when they were teenagers in Baghdad. A year after their marriage, in 1950, he was elected senior scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, before being appointed in 1953 to the staff of the London School of Economics.

Thereafter they settled in London and welcomed many a friend and visitor to their house in Belsize Park, where Sylvia Kedourie’s kindness, gentle sense of humour and intelligence were patent to all. Professionally, apart from contributing articles to various academic journals, she collaborated with her husband in the preparation of a number of edited volumes about aspects of the modern and contemporary history of the Middle East.

In recent decades she gave particular attention to Turkey. Such work was all connected to the founding (by Elie Kedourie in 1964) of Middle Eastern Studies – an international journal with a broad reach of subject, free of political slant and devoid of the tunnel vision and jargon so often dear to academia.

Initially, when her children were young, Sylvia Kedourie’s role was to assist in both the editing and production. But not long before her husband’s death in 1992, she had effectively become the joint editor in the full sense of the term, and she subsequently served as the editor right up to the time of her death.

After 1992 Sylvia Kedourie saw to the re-edition and posthumous publication of certain of her late husband’s writings and lectures, with help from her daughter, Helen. A notable fruit was a fine posthumous work on Hegel and Marx, whose preparation was a redoubtable challenge. She also edited two volumes: Elie Kedourie, CBE, FBA, 1926-1992 (1998) and Elie Kedourie’s Approaches to History and Political Theory (2006).

An ongoing legacy has been the series of Elie Kedourie Memorial Lectures at the British Academy, with which she was much involved from the time of their inception. The last such lecture took place at the British Academy only four days before her death.

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Yehudit Ronen of Bar Ilan university adds :  

(Sylvia was)…a super talented editor and academic observer, many times surpassing in her insights and knowledge those of the scholars sending her their articles with the hope she will find them worthy to be published in the highly prestigious Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Sylvia, who had  taken on  the editorial task of the MES from Prof. Elie after his untimely death in 1992 (we all were in deep sadness, hoping she will take on the torch) had a strong impact on the field of academic research on the ME’s modern political history. Sylvia’s skills and hard editorial work caused the MES to rise to the top of the list of academic journals in the area of Middle Eastern studies. To me, as well as to many other colleagues of mine, the MES has always been central to our academic life, being constantly regarded as a premium academic journal, led by an objective and devoted scholar. Sylvia and Elie obviously had founded and nourished a grandiose project of life, immensely contributing to the global academic research world while providing it with a great room for triggering professional debates, presenting new scholarly findings and exchanging views. 
I was honored to have had some of my articles published in the MES. Clearly, the MES has become not only a stage on which to hold an academic discourse but has also become a base of readership for scholars and students alike. Not surprising that both of your parents were highly appreciated for their distinguished professional standards and for their seminal contribution to the global academic community. I’m also so proud and content that the academic world had saluted to both Elie and Sylvia’s MES when the excellent journal celebrated its fiftieth anniversary two years earlier.
Clearly, the death of Sylvia is a terrible loss, personally and academically. Yet, I’m sure that her unique and important contribution will be respected and remembered for ever.

Sylvia Kedourie, last of the old-school academics

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