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Obituary: Edward Timms (1937-2018)

Professor Edward (Ted) Timms, who died on 21 November at the age of 81, reshaped his academic discipline by sharply defining two areas, Austrian Studies and, later, German-Jewish Studies.

From 1956 he read Modern Languages at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he concentrated on German.

After a year teaching in Nuremberg, he began a PhD thesis on Austrian writer and journalist Karl Kraus, and in 1963 he was appointed an Assistant Lecturer at the newly founded University of Sussex, which offered great scope for innovatory and cross-disciplinary teaching.

Returning in 1965 to Cambridge as a University Assistant Lecturer and Fellow of Caius, he found this environment more restrictive but did his best to broaden the curriculum. Edward’s focus on Austria led to his starting an Austrian Study Group at Cambridge and eventually to founding the yearbook Austrian Studies.

Edward’s doctoral thesis was the seed of his first book, Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic Satirist: Culture and Crisis in Habsburg Vienna, published in 1986. Immediately recognized as towering over all other studies of Kraus, the book was translated into German, and even made required reading in its English version in at least one Austrian university.

Becoming increasingly restless in Cambridge, Edward accepted the invitation in 1992 to return to Sussex as Professor of German. There, with the support of two Vice-Chancellors, Gordon Conway and later Alasdair Smith, he founded the Centre for German-Jewish Studies.

Helped by a network of supporters from the Jewish community in London, Brighton and further afield, the Centre aimed to illuminate the history of Jewish emancipation, assimilation and persecution in German-speaking countries. 

It held a number of major conferences, papers from which were published in book form, notably The German-Jewish Dilemma in 1995.

Besides forming its own archive of refugees’ papers, the Centre secured a large AHRC grant to compile a database of refugee archives in Britain.

A particularly fascinating collection was the Arnold Daghani archive, which the University had held since 1987 without knowing its value: some 6,000 works of art and notebooks by a survivor of the Nazi slave labour camp at Mikhailovka. This gave rise to several publications, including Memories of Mikhailovka: Arnold Daghani's Slave Labour Camp Diary, edited by Edward with the art historian Deborah Schultz (2007).

Fully aware of the need to encourage young scholars, the Centre set up the bi-annual Max and Hilde Kochmann summer school for PhD students in European cultural history. With the support of the Association for Jewish Refugees, the Centre initiated an annual Holocaust Memorial Day event at the University of Sussex. Both events continue. 

Meanwhile, Karl Kraus was not forgotten. A second volume, subtitled The Post-War Crisis and the Rise of the Swastika, appeared in 2005. Massive, encyclopaedic, it increasingly focuses on Kraus’s exposure of the horrors of Nazism.

Edward’s many scholarly achievements are the more remarkable when one recalls that from about 2000 he was increasingly disabled by multiple sclerosis. Edward bore his affliction with extraordinary fortitude, and his intellectual and social energies were unabated.

Together with Fred Bridgham, he accomplished a seemingly impossible translation, of Kraus’s monster drama The Last Days of Mankind, published by Yale in 2015. This accomplishment was awarded the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Translation by the Modern Language Association of America.

Having retired from directing the Centre for German-Jewish Studies in 2003, and become Research Professor in History, Edward continued to write down to late 2017.

Many honours arrived from both Austria and Britain. Edward received the Austrian State Prize for the History of the Social Sciences in 2002, the Austrian Cross of Honour for Arts and Sciences in 2008, and the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Province of Vienna in 2013. He was awarded the OBE for services to scholarship in 2005, and elected a Fellow of the British Academy the following year.

Everyone who knew Edward will remember his unfailing humanity, self-control, patience, kindness and forbearance. Some very English emotional reserve, instilled by his upbringing, lingered, but was counterbalanced by his sociability and talent for friendship. He loved collaborative enterprises and was a natural networker. He enriched the lives of all those around him.

 

Professor Ritchie Robertson, University of Oxford (former member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies)


Posted on behalf of: Centre for German-Jewish Studies
Last updated: Thursday, 20 December 2018

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I'm saddened to read the news of the passing of Edward Timms. If I may, I'd like to add a personal note to this obituary and which also addresses an important ommission. Throughout the time I was at Sussex 1990-2006 I had effectively no contact with Edward Timms. Even though our daily working lives were within fifty yards of each other - he mostly in Arts B, me always in Arts C - other than occasional research seminars we had no direct or indirect contact. Passing ships in the night. That is, until one day in 2005 when, just after I'd returned from a research trip to Turkey and had once again been introduced to the work of Turkish communist, exile, poet and filmmaker Nazim Hikmet. I bumped into Prof. Timms and asked him, rather speculatively, "You're not the Edward Timms who has co-authored the only English biography of Nazim Hikmet ?" I knew his work in the Centre for German-Jewish Studies and of his work on Kraus, and therefore didn't expect him to be writing on Hikmet. He opened up and beamed at me "Well as it happens, I am, though it is my co-author who should have the credit." We talked briefly about the book - Romantic Communist : the Life and Work of Nazim Hikmet (I.B. Tauris, 1999) - but I had to disappoint him, saying that I knew of the book, I'd tried to find a copy of the book, but had not found one and therefore not yet read it. He said, "Look, I may have a copy in my office." Off I went with him to his office, he fished out a copy from amongst piles of papers, and said 'Here have it' dedicating the book to me signing also on behalf of his co-author, Saime Goksu, who I now realised, was his wife. This copy I have in front of me now as I write. This turned out to be the only occasion in which I spoke with Edward Timms, but it was enough to leave me with the strong sense, expressed by the obituarist here, of his patience, kindness and friendship.

Let me end this moment of appreciation of the generosity and kindness of Professor Timms by connecting his intellectual, academic interests, and humanity on the one hand with his work on Nazim Hikmet and persecution and exile on the other hand. I was first introduced to the poetic work of Nazim Hikmet by my former Sussex PhD student, and Turkish academic Dr. Burak Ulman. Burak gave me a copy of key translated poems in 2002 (Poems of Nazim Hikmet, trans. Blasing & Konuk, Persea Books, 2002) on my first trip to Istanbul. Wonderful poetry. Try 'On living'. Today Dr. Ulman awaits the final stage of his trial, next month, having been charged along with 530 other Turkish academics with supporting a terrorist organisation, after he signed a petition calling for peace in Turkey. Almost 230,000 public servants, including Burak Ulman, have been fired by government decree from their jobs, prohibited from ever working again in their profession, their passports confiscated and all pension rights removed, all without a jot of evidence and all in the process of being endorsed by sham court proceedings. Thus far, all academics so dismissed have been found 'guilty', many without even pretence of any evidence, and been sentenced to circa two years imprisonment.

This current appalling picture in Turkey is one reminiscent of the world Edward Timms was so keen to expose and remind, not least through his biography of Nazim Hikmet. That world of persecution and exile is still with us whilst the poets, artists and philosophers who have warned so clearly pass on.

From Julian Saurin on 21 December 2018
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