ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Remembering Chris Bayly

Chris Bayly--who passed away recently--began as a historian in the classical Cambridge School mould but moved away from the school's understanding of the locality in his second work where he stressed on locality as a place shaped both by social history, and by participation in regional and even continental networks. He saw himself as a robustly empirical historian, suspicious of postmodernism and the linguistic turn.

A version of this article was offered as remarks at an informal discussion convened at the University of Chicago on 29 April to remember Christopher Bayly. I thank G Arunima, Vinayak Chaturvedi, Richard Drayton, Aishwary Kumar and Simona Sawhney for their responses to an earlier version of this piece.

I was fortunate enough to be a graduate student with Chris between 1988 and 1992. I now realise that he was quite young when I arrived in Cambridge—only 43. But the prospect of working with him was intimidating, not least because he already had quite a reputation, having just five years before published what was even then recognised as a revolutionary book—Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars. But that sense of intimidation did not last long at all. On our very first meeting, we talked for a few minutes in that famous room—C3, St Catherines—and then he took me out to (if I remember) The Anchor, where we had a beer. After this, almost every meeting began in his room, but dissolved in animated discussions at a pub. And my experience was scarcely unique: most graduate students who worked with Chris have similar stories to share.

Chris was not just an extraordinary scholar, but an exceptionally generous person, whose conversation was marked also by a humour that darted out unexpectedly to put more serious matters in somewhat deflating perspective. As another former graduate student Seema Alavi writes in an evocative obituary, he was a “keen listener, a kind and generous friend whose English austerity concealed a warmth that touched and left an indelible impression on anyone who was lucky to have known him (Alavi 2015).” Or as Faisal Devji writes, Chris was “also a scholar who unusually refused to reproduce himself intellectually or, indeed, set up a ‘Bayly School’ to replace the Cambridge one he so disliked. Instead, he sought to get the best out of his students, …whatever it was they wanted to do” (Devji 2015).

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