Professor Joan Hussey

Formidable Byzantine scholar
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Joan Mervyn Hussey, historian, Byzantine scholar and teacher: born Trowbridge, Wiltshire 5 June 1907; Assistant Lecturer in History, Manchester University 1937-43; Lecturer in History, Bedford College, London 1943-47, Reader 1947-50; Professor of History, Royal Holloway College, London 1950-74 (Emeritus); President, British National Committee for Byzantine Studies 1961-71; died Virginia Water, Surrey 20 February 2006.

Joan Hussey made an important contribution to Byzantine studies in Britain and internationally; she was a formidable scholar with penetrating judgement, wide knowledge and deep understanding of her subject.

For many years she was engaged in editing and contributing to the new Byzantine volumes in The Cambridge Medieval History. Planned immediately after the Second World War with the help of N.H. Baynes, the two parts of volume 4, The Byzantine Empire, did not appear until 1966-67, which delay demonstrates the enormous task in dealing with such a wide subject and co-ordinating with such a diverse group of scholars.

At the same time, as President of the British Committee for Byzantine Studies, Hussey was involved in the organisation of the 13th International Byzantine Congress held in Oxford in 1966.

Later, from 1970 to 1984, she applied herself to the history of the Byzantine Church, stimulated into activity by Henry Chadwick. Her The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, in the Oxford History of the Christian Church series, appeared in 1986.

Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1907, Joan Hussey was first taught privately at home, then at Trowbridge High School for Girls and the Lycée Victor Duruy in Paris. She read History at St Hugh's College, Oxford. As a postgraduate she was first supervised by W.D. Ross in Oxford and later in London by N.H. Baynes, completing her PhD in 1935.

As an International Travelling Fellow of the Federation of University Women in 1934-35, and then as Pfeiffer Research Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, she had the opportunity to study abroad. She spent sometime with the Byzantinist Franz Dölger in Munich and began investigating the manuscripts of the 11th-century scholar John Mauropous in the Hofbibliothek in Vienna, in the Vatican Library and in the monastery of St Stephen on Meteora. It was at this time that she also did a good deal of work on the great Byzantine mystic Symeon the New Theologian which she later handed over to Father Basil (later Archbishop) Krivocheine.

In 1937 she was appointed Assistant Lecturer at Manchester University, then from 1943 Lecturer and, subsequently, Reader at Bedford College, London, and from 1950 Professor of History in London University at Royal Holloway College, where she remained Head of the History Department until she retired in 1974.

Academic obligations during this period left little time for research. Her PhD thesis had already been expanded and published in 1937 as Church and Learning in the Byzantine Empire, 867-1185. In addition, various articles reflected her research on Mauropous and Symeon the New Theologian, and her long-standing interest in Byzantine monasticism.

At London University Hussey introduced undergraduate special and optional subjects mainly on Byzantine topics, and went on to produce for her students a brief survey of Byzantine life and history, The Byzantine World (1957), which still remains a model of its kind.

With her English-speaking students in mind she went on to translate George Ostrogorsky's 1952 Geschichte des byzantinischen Staates, as History of the Byzantine State (1956), to provide them with an up-to-date general history of Byzantium. To those who are familiar with translating from one language into another, the exceptional merits of this work are self-evident.

Meanwhile in 1964 she had discovered the apparently neglected and certainly deteriorating papers of the 19th- century Byzantine historian and Philhellene George Finlay in the British School at Athens. For the next 10 years she spent every September in Athens trying to sort these out. The result was The Finlay Papers: a catalogue (1973) and the subsequent edition of two volumes with selected items, The Journals and Letters of George Finlay (1995).

Parallel with her academic activities and links with European universities, she had a keen concern for educational developments both in universities and schools. (University material, she knew, was largely formed in the schools.) For many years she was one of the Chief Examiners for the Cambridge Local Examination Board, and as a teacher of London Univ- ersity she had contacts with the developing university colleges abroad. This meant involvement in setting up appropriate history syllabuses at various levels in Africa and in Malaya - giving her the opportunity to visit universities and schools in Nigeria, East Africa (particularly Uganda), the Sudan and Malaysia.

"Looking back", Hussey once wrote in a letter, "apart from the valued links abroad, I should like to pay tribute to two of my Oxford tutors, E.M. Jamison and E.S.S. Proctor, who instilled into me as an undergraduate the principles of scholarship, to the University of Manchester which revealed the true meaning of an academic community, to my own students in the University of London whose discussions so often elucidated East Roman history, and most of all to Norman Baynes who demonstrated the perfect balance between historical detail and the wider implications of the subject, and whose friendship illuminated so many other aspects of everyday life."

Tribute was paid to her in turn in an 80th-birthday Festschrift published in 1988 under the appropriate title Kathegetria ("Teacher"). A forceful and unassuming character, Joan Hussey was an inspiring kathegetria. She represented the old tradition of scholarship and integrity.

Julian Chrysostomides