Professor Martin Lynn
August 31, 1951 - April 15, 2005
Innovative historian of West Africa who shone amid the new generation
of scholars of colonialism and its consequences
MARTIN LYNN, the Professor of African History at Queen's University
Belfast, was a first-rate historian and a pioneer among a new
generation of scholars who understand colonialism as being a complex
of institutions, behaviours, practices and beliefs which emerged
dialectically rather than simply through imposition.
He was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and his country of birth became the
focus of his scholarship for 30 years, most of which were spent at
Queen's University Belfast, where he taught from 1980. A graduate of
King's College London, where he also completed his PhD after taking
his MA at the Sschool of Oriental and African Studies, he returned to
Nigeria to take up an appointment at the University of Ilorin.
The approach of his doctoral study on the role of the palm-oil trade
in building the economy of West Africa and lubricating Britain's
burgeoning Industrial Revolution typified much of his later work
where he sought to balance the histories of both colonial and African
institutions. His publications and research spanned the 150-year
period of informal empire in West Africa to the decolonisation of
Nigeria in 1960 - and very few historians command such an enviable
sweep of time.
With his reputation established, Lynn was commissioned to edit the
definitive collection of manuscripts in Nigeria 1943-60, in the
British Documents at the End of the Empire project (HMSO, 2001). His
standing as a leading African historian was matched by his
outstanding contribution as a teacher and colleague in the history
school at Queen's at which he progressed from lecturer to reader and,
in 2004, to a personal chair.
Alongside his responsibilities for teaching modern British history,
he also developed his own courses in imperial, African and Chinese
history. These not only broadened the curriculum substantially but
also became among the most popular with students, thanks in no small
measure to his inspirational but rigorous teaching. The clarity and
incisiveness of his lectures were legendary. Students' demand for his
courses, their assessment of them and their achievements in them,
were therefore exceptionally high.
Away from archives and classrooms, Lynn was an engaging
conversationalist with wide interests and a wry sense of humour. His
knowledge of the Nigerian football league tables of the 1940s was
unsurpassed. He had a particular passion for cricket, supporting
Somerset through thick and thin - mostly thin. He was the chief
enthusiast behind the Queen's University staff cricket team. His
infectious laughter cheered up many a dull academic conference, but
he could always be relied upon to have a well-informed and deeply
ethical opinion about events in the world.
He loved a good laugh, especially at his own expense, and relished
telling how he had sent an article to an academic journal only to
have it rejected by the anonymous referee who declared it less good
than "the magisterial work of Professor Martin Lynn".
His marriage to Alice Clark, a fellow student at SOAS in 1978,
triggered a profound exploration of Quaker beliefs with a deepening
private spiritual life. This found practical reflection in his work
for the Friends' Peace and Service Committee and for Friends in
Belfast. Last year he gave an insightful lecture on the Children of
Light to mark the 350th anniversary celebrations of Quakerism in
In his youth Lynn had been a climber. To celebrate his 40th birthday
he conquered, in a single weekend, the three highest peaks in the UK,
an achievement he repeated when he turned 50.
Lynn died of post-operative complications after heart surgery. He is
survived by his wife and by their two daughters.
Professor Martin Lynn, historian of West Africa, was born on August
31, 1951. He died on April 15, 2005, aged 53.
Times,May 18, 2005