Professor John Lynch dies at 91

Monday 9 April 2018

We were saddened to hear of the death of Professor John Lynch, a distinguished historian of Latin America and colleague who died peacefully at home on April 4th after a long illness. John was Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies from 1974 until his retirement in 1987.

Rory Miller has posted the following note:

Dear colleagues

We received the sad news last weekend that Professor John Lynch, former professor of Latin American history at UCL, and Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies in London from 1974 until 1987, had died after a long illness.  Tony McFarlane, emeritus professor of Latin American history at Warwick and a former PhD student of John’s, has written the following note:

“Professor John Lynch

John Lynch will long be remembered for his huge contribution to our understanding of the history of the Hispanic world. Over a long and extremely fruitful career, he engaged with many subjects, from colonial and republican Argentina to wide-ranging studies of the Spanish empire under Habsburg and Bourbon rule, Spanish American independence, the post-independence phenomenon of caudillos, the history of religion and the Catholic Church in Latin America, and, in full biographies, the lives and times of Rosas, Bolívar and San Martín. On these important subjects, Professor Lynch produced works of lasting value, on themes that continue to fascinate historians and students, notably the development of the Spanish monarchy under Bourbon rule, the struggles for independence and problems of state formation in Spanish America after independence, and, last but not least, the historical trajectory of the Catholic Church, for so long a pivotal institution in Spanish American social and cultural life. His works will long remain key references on these subjects, not only for their scholarship and erudition, but also because of his talents as a writer. His outstanding gift for lucid synthesis and his limpid prose style make for compelling writing and great clarity: Lynch invariably found the phrase that illuminated a subject, the mot juste that caught the reader’s attention and crystallized the question.

John Lynch also occupies his own place in the history of Latin American studies in the English-speaking world, for he was in that vanguard of British academics who developed the study of Latin American history in the UK from the 1960s, and ensured that Latin American history -and Latin American studies more generally – established a strong presence in British universities. His major institutional contributions were made through his long career at University College, London and, from 1974, as Director of London University’s Institute of Latin American Studies. In his work as both teacher and writer, he did much to bring the history of Spain and its empire to a growing public, in both the English and Spanish-speaking worlds.

John was a quiet and modest man, liked by all who knew him, particularly those of us who, like me, had the good fortune to be among his PhD students. He was an assiduous, knowledgeable, and helpful supervisor, always keen to respond to reports from the archives, to discuss the issues that arose from research, and to provide the novice with the benefit of his considerable scholarship and generous support. In the wider context of academic life, he was a model of the dedicated scholar, committed to researching and writing, and, even after his formal retirement from academia, producing a steady stream of publications of great quality. He will be sadly missed by the community of historians to whom he contributed so much.”

Peter Blanchard, another of John's research students, adds that John always remained keenly interested in what his research students were doing after they graduated and supported them throughout their careers.  For my own part, although I was never one of John's students, I recall quite vividly the London Institute's Thursday History seminars which John took over from Robin Humphreys and, even more, the lengthy and convivial evenings which inevitably followed with John, some of his colleagues, and other PhD students, always in the same pub in Tottenham Court Road.  For many of us working in London in the early 1970s, John's willingness to share his knowledge of Latin American history and his support of graduate students working in the field, whether or not he was their supervisor, is something that will stay with us.

Rory Miller