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Remembering Professor Emeritus, Clive Emsley (1944-2020)

Clive Emsley on his receipt of an honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University

Clive Emsley, pioneering historian, and enthusiastic wine connoisseur, born 4 August 1944; died 5 October 2020. We in FASS wish him the fondest of farewells.

Founding member of the History Department at the Open University, Clive rose from humble beginnings to carve a career as a world-class historian and one of the foremost exponents of criminal justice history. His generous and inclusive approach to scholarship ensured he played a unique role in encouraging and nurturing a new generation of researchers around the world and he will be fondly remembered by all who knew him.

Clive joined the OU fresh from a research post at Peterhouse College, Cambridge lending his wealth of knowledge to a pioneering role researching the history of policing and crime. It is no overstatement to make the claim that Clive’s research defined and shaped our modern understanding of crime and its control via an exceptional number of published works.

Executive Dean, Professor Ian Fribbance describes how the former actor thrived as a presenter in many of our early BBC broadcasts:

“Clive used his acting skills to good effect in early teaching broadcasts (he had previously performed with Helen Mirren while a member of the National Youth Theatre), and reflected on the early days of the OU in his contribution to the OU@50 blog series. He was a world-class historian and one of the foremost exponents of criminal justice history.”

Among his accolades Clive provided the first scholarly history of the English police (The English Police: A Political and Social History) and a ground-breaking exploration of crime and justice (Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900), both of which remain standard works on syllabi around the world.

For those wishing to investigate the history of crime and policing, Clive’s name is invariably top of the list.  However, what always impressed those who collaborated with him over the years was the man himself. A self-effacing, inclusive and patient scholar, his intellectual impact on the field of history has been significant but the impact of his intellectual generosity has been greater still. He met, educated, inspired and encouraged other historians on five continents, and he encouraged two generations of specialists to approach research in a spirit of curiosity, respect for the archives, and mutual aid. Other historians have founded international schools of thought and built networks and institutions, but Clive stood out in doing so through establishing such a spirit of co-operation and fellowship.

Read the full tribute in OU news here.

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