Remembering Lisa Jardine

November 19, 2015
By news updates

The Society for Renaissance Studies expresses its sorrow and regret at the death of Professor Lisa Jardine CBE on 25 October 2015.

Colleagues and students reflect on Lisa Jardine’s legacy.

Lisa Jardine was born in 1944, the daughter of the famous historian of literature and science Jacob Bronowski, and the sculptor Rita Coblentz. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, Cambridge University and the University of Essex. She held research fellowships at the Warburg Institute and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell before being appointed to a lectureship in English at Jesus College, Cambridge in 1976, the first woman to be elected to a full fellowship of the College. In 1989 she became Professor of English at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, where she founded the Centre for Editing, Lives and Letters in 2002. In 2012 she and the Centre moved to University College London. From 2008-2014 she served as Chair of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Her first book, Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of Discourse (Cambridge, 1974), based on her PhD thesis, combines history of science, philosophy and literature, and her work was to be notably interdisciplinary throughout her career. Subsequently she published important contributions to Shakespeare studies, Reading Shakespeare Historically (Routledge, 1996), and together with Tony Grafton, the history of renaissance education, From Humanism to the Humanities (Harvard, 1986), and a new history of the renaissance in terms of its material culture, Worldly Goods (Doubleday, 1996). She later turned her attention to seventeenth century studies writing biographies of Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and studies of Anglo-Dutch cultural relations. She was not only an extraordinarily wide-ranging scholar but that rare phenomenon in English cultural life, a public intellectual. She was an enthusiastic promoter of renaissance studies, an engaging lecturer, a leading public voice for the humanities and for links between science and the arts, a charismatic teacher and a warm friend. She was a central member of the influential generation of women who broke through the limitations imposed on women scholars by the male academic establishment. She retained a generous and inclusive vision of Renaissance studies and the emancipatory value of education throughout her long, active and distinguished career.

– Andrew Hadfield

– Peter Mack


Lisa Jardine took young scholars seriously and created a constructive atmosphere for early career researchers to exchange ideas and be inspired. Here follow testimonies by some of the next generation who continue her legacy as a pioneer in interdisciplinary research and in feminist scholarship, and as a chamption of digital humanities and a public intellectual.


Lisa Jardine’s rich, candid appearance on Desert Island Discs this year started on a jarring note. “Historian, biographer, public thinker, mathematician, her proclivities are wide-ranging” intoned Kirsty Young, before describing Lisa’s books “on subjects as diverse as Sir Christopher Wren, 17th century Holland, Erasmus, and women in the time of Shakespeare”. It was a theme repeated in many of the obituaries published last month. But to Lisa, and those who worked with her, there was nothing “diverse” or scattershot about her interests. Her lifelong subject was human inquiry, her material was human text. She encroached on the boundaries of academic disciplines as pugnaciously as she did those of departmental turf, and she attracted students who, like her, had been frustrated, even damaged, by the narrowing of subject choice so early on in British schools. As Westminster continues to divide the world into STEM subjects and “the rest”, her every breath bore witness to the falseness of that choice. I recently described her as punk before punk: she was also of course, interdisciplinary before interdisciplinarity. The historian Simon Schama wrote, on Lisa’s death, “She understood that to write of humanity you needed to be fully part of it”. As the world’s turmoil leaves the great European liberal tradition ever more under threat, we shall miss her all the more.

– Kate Maltby, broadcaster, literary critic, writer and PhD student at University College London (


Before she was a humanist, Lisa Jardine was a feminist. Her own experiences made her aware of the deep roots of inequality. Her work with Julia Swindells in What’s Left amounts to a literary and intellectual genealogy of the sexism that ran rampant in the left-wing politics of the 1960s, during her own coming of age. But Lisa had the endurance to push back on all fronts: in her scholarship, the classroom, among colleagues and collaborators. What was most revolutionary about Lisa’s feminist politics was that her energy and warmth grew to absolute radiance when it came to the task of considering the next generation, her students. She just didn’t inspire a generation of women at a distance, she worked at teaching students to build confidence in themselves, sometimes from scratch. I will never forget the feeling of being in a room with Lisa, which she made into the ideal learning environment, one in which I knew that my ideas alone were being tested, not my self-worth. Nor could I thank her enough for that space she made for students like me: built on an unconditional trust that made it possible to take risks, to make mistakes, to feel bold, to feel free.

– Brooke Palmieri, PhD student, University College London


Lisa Jardine was always looking forward to the future as a way to revisit problems she couldn’t quite solve at the time while remaining hungry for more ways she could bring the digital and the literary together to answer even more of her old questions. I experienced this first hand when, thanks to Brooke Palmieri’s generosity, I was invited to present to Lisa’s research group; it was already enough that Lisa knew my name, let alone be so supportive of someone tackling her old questions with new methods. But this turned out to be typical of Lisa, who was enthused that you could take these various new methods and approaches which borrowed from her maths background and apply them to something else she loved so much. Her excitement over how digital methods would finally enable her to unravel Gabriel Harvey’s mysteries was infectious: you wanted to hear every idea, every story, and you wanted to help her realise this dream to see where she would take us next. It breaks my heart that she will never get to see her dream implemented but she leaves us a treasure trove of questions to tackle with our new methods – just as she would have always wanted to see.

– Heather Froehlich, PhD Student, University of Strathclyde (


One of Lisa’s great gifts to her students was that she instilled in us her respect for public engagement. An archival discovery, a theoretical leap or a game-changing new thesis was something to share with the world, not just with the academy. Lisa shared her tips on giving public lectures, and taught us how to deliver a piece for radio and pitch an idea to a broadcasting company. When I started studying with her at the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, fresh from a career in theatre, she insisted I teach the graduate students my vocal warm-up exercises (an event trailed on the CELL website with a picture from the Broadway show A Chorus Line – Lisa’s fondness for camp was legion). Lisa had tremendous faith in audiences and readers, and a scepticism for unthinkingly abstruse scholarship. What she realised, and what she shared with us, is that to render an argument comprehensible to a broad range of readers rendered that argument clearer and sharpened the mind of the writer. A generation of exceptional public scholars, unafraid of old media or social media, owes a very great deal to Lisa for this legacy.

– Will Tosh, Post-doctoral research fellow, Globe Education, Shakespeare’s Globe

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