Obituary: Professor Sidney Pollard

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The Independent Culture
SIDNEY POLLARD was an economic and social historian who commanded an international reputation, and made important contributions across the discipline.

His work embraced studies of both Britain and Europe, and assumed an increasing significance from the mid-1960s. The Genesis of Modern Management (1965) secured the American Newcomen Society Prize for the best book on business history between 1964 and 1966, and in Pollard's opinion remained his most satisfying scholarly work. From the late 1960s his contributions related particularly to two research areas.

One preoccupation focused on the relative decline of the British economy and led to The Wasting of the British Economy (1982) and Britain's Prime and Britain's Decline (1989). This research argued that damaging consequences flowed from the dominance in economic policy-making of financial and commercial groups over the industrial interest. His work on capital formation, a project which allowed his mathematical skills to come into play, was linked to this bigger theme of Britain's relative economic decline.

His other major preoccupation led him to concentrate on "the economic development of Europe seen as a single process". His 1981 book Peaceful Conquest reflected this interest. So did Marginal Europe (1997), with its argument that regions which were "among the poorest, least favoured by nature and political influence" provided the salient locations for the industrial changes which transformed European societies.

Pollard also carried out research into labour history, an interest which reflected his political leanings. His works on Robert Owen and the Sheffield Outrages (both published in 1971) built on earlier studies. This same interest can also be traced in his work for the Society for the Study of Labour History, of which he was a founder member in 1960. He also maintained a lifelong interest in the Co-operative Movement and its history.

His origins lay in Central Europe. He was born Siegfried Pollak in Vienna in 1925, the second of two sons of Moses Pollak, a commercial traveller, and his wife Leontine (nee Katz). His parents originated in Galicia but had moved to Vienna, where he received his early education. He excelled in mathematics, and held a youthful preference for a career in science. He also became an exceptionally proficient violinist.

But his life and that of his parents changed dramatically in 1938. Following the Anschluss, anti-Semitic pressures drove his parents from their council flat to a one-room apartment in the Leopoldstadt ghetto. In such circumstances, in December 1938 his parents secured a place for him on one of the Kindertransporte to Britain. A Jewish committee in Edinburgh had provided the funds for his departure. Pollard never saw his parents again. They perished in the Holocaust. Where and when remain unknown.

After reception camps in East Anglia he went to Whittingehame, the seat of the Balfour family in East Lothian, where he engaged principally in agricultural work which the British authorities hoped would prepare such young refugees for an eventual life on a kibbutz in Palestine. He left Scotland in 1941 and travelled south, initially to another settlement at Bredon's Norton, before working as a market gardener in Cambridge. At the same time, he resolved to continue with his education and received support from Greta Burkill, a guardian angel to many refugees from the Greater Germany.

He studied by correspondence course for the London Matriculation examination and then for the external BSc (Econ) degree. His excellent performance on the latter resulted in a student's place at the LSE. However, his attendance was delayed until his return from military service. In 1943 he volunteered for the armed forces and served with the Reconnaissance Corps. With his entry into military life Siegfried Pollak became transformed into Sidney Pollard.

In January 1947, following his demobilisation, he entered the LSE where he graduated with first class honours in 1949 (though he had taken the examinations in 1948), and secured a research scholarship. His research focused on the British shipbuilding industry between 1870 and 1914. He completed the doctorate in 1950 and obtained his degree in the following year. By then he had begun his academic career. In July 1950 Sheffield University appointed him to the first Douglas Knoop Research Fellowship. The major research outcome of the Fellowship was A History of Labour in Sheffield 1850-1939 (1959). Various local history publications and a respected text, The Development of the British Economy (1962), led to his appointment in 1963 to the first Chair of Economic History at Sheffield. His inaugural lecture revealed a deep commitment to the Marxist interpretation of history.

Pollard proceeded to build his department, focusing especially on research output. However, his growing reputation attracted the attention of universities outside Britain. Between 1969 and 1970 he was at Berkeley and in 1971 accepted the offer of a post there. However, he then withdrew his acceptance and secured reinstatement at Sheffield. Nevertheless, his passion for travel, combined with an inner restlessness, led to visiting appointments in Israel, Germany, the US and Australia. His snapping of the link with Sheffield came 30 years after his appointment, when he accepted a post at Bielefeld, in West Germany. He spent 10 years there, retiring as Emeritus Professor in 1990. He returned "with something of a heavy heart" to live in Sheffield and renewed his contact with the university as Senior Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of History.

In view of his achievements Pollard was elected a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 1988. He was presented with a Fest-schrift in 1991. Then in 1992 Sheffield University conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Pollard's career amounted to a resounding triumph over adversity. The anti-Semitism in Vienna, the difficulty he experienced in pursuing a scientific career because as a young refugee he had no access to laboratories, and the barriers placed in the way of his academic career by one of his supervisors at LSE, would have deterred many lesser souls. But through his prodigious abilities and gritty determination he surmounted these hurdles. Surprisingly, these problems did not generate any bitterness within him.

Towards the end of his life he wrote, "The feeling of not wholly belonging anywhere remains." He lived as a marginal figure, looking on, puzzled and fascinated, from the outside, and some of his powerful drive resulted from this marginality. But he felt most consistently at home in Sheffield, where he had begun his academic career approximately 12 years after he had arrived as a child refugee at Harwich.

After much turbulence in his life he found the peace he sought, in his second marriage, in 1982, to Helen Trippett. He secured a routine which allowed for his interest in walking, musical concerts, travel, solving the "too easy" crossword in The Times, and also for continuing with his academic research, until the weekend he died.

Siegfried Pollak (Sidney Pollard), economic and social historian; born Vienna 21 April 1925; Douglas Knoop Research Fellow, Sheffield University 1950-52, Assistant Lecturer in Economic History 1952-55, Lecturer 1955- 60, Senior Lecturer 1960-63, Professor 1963-80; Professor of Economic History, Bielefeld University 1980-90 (Emeritus); FBA 1988; married 1949 Eileen Andrews (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1982 Helen Trippett; died Sheffield 22 November 1998.