Apr 26, 2019What does it feel like to continue doing research at age 90, after an illustrious career of shaping an entire scholarly discipline for decades? For most people, maintaining good health at such an advanced age is an incredible feat in itself that few achieve. But to write a book, after writing so many that have profoundly influenced the way multiple generations of later scholars think, after having already proven oneself and won all the prestige there is to win, to write a book not for one's career interests but purely for the joy and sense of commitment to one's research—who can confidently claim to possess the passion and intellectual stamina to pursue such an endeavour?
Today, some of the greatest scholars in the fields of ancient, mediaeval and early modern European history paid homage to a star that does not burn out: NZD. Each of the speakers—giants in their respective fields—expressed their respect and gratitude to her in their own way: some reminisced on their personal memories of indebtedness, while others presented short pieces of historical study as a tribute, and a few combined the two modes. At the end, NZD herself stepped up to the podium to deliver, with remarkable robustness and clarity, a reflection on what has kept her going as a historian for over six decades, and most impressively, what her current book project was about. To be sure, NZD's work has always been important but not central to my own academic interests, but I've never seen anyone so dedicated to her mission as a scholar while simultaneously so passionate about history's relevance to today's problems.
Before leaving the conference, I had the great privilege of meeting one of my own intellectual heroes. Though we didn't speak for very long, I realised immediately that I wanted to work with her, or at least keep in close contact in coming years. Her words of advice, her calling me a 'comrade-in-arms,' her remark that there was something genuinely interesting and worth exploring in my project, and the generation invitation to reach out—all these things which could just be courteous words of encouragement mean so much to me. It's given me the strength to brush off my qualms and self-doubt, and to carry on with what I have.