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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