Obituary: Albert Hourani

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The Independent Online
YOUR obituary of Albert Hourani (by Roger Hardy, 18 January) left several sides of his character and career unmentioned, writes Derek Hopwood.

Those of us who had the privilege of being his students and colleagues remember him as a man of exceptional warmth and hospitality. He was endlessly ready to give time and advice to all who sought it. Drawing on an impeccable memory and a wide and deep historical knowledge he would guide students to the relevant sources, suggest new approaches and, if necessary, criticise in the gentlest of manners: 'Perhaps one could express this a little differently.'

His greatest achievement was the training of a large group of scholars who now teach Middle East history in many parts of the world. He inspired a quite extraordinary devotion amongst them and he was proud of the way they developed and participated in the growth of the subject. He was always willing to meet the latest research student, to help them, but also in the hope of learning something new from them. The bibliography of his phenomenally successful book A History of the Arab Peoples is a roll-call of the work of all those from whom he learned and of those he had trained.

His intellectual home was Oxford, the university and St Antony's College. One of the latter's earliest members, he helped to build up its international reputation in his own field. He was instrumental in developing the college's Middle East Centre, where his door was ever open and where he was ever ready to dispense Lebanese coffee to visitors. It was an exciting place in which young scholars were able to meet on equal terms many of the leading names of Middle Eastern scholarship and politics. Those of us he appointed to work there with him owe him an incalculable debt. He taught us sympathy and understanding for the unending problems of the area and never to dismiss intolerantly the ideas of others.

His presence in seminars helped to ensure the highest standards of academic exchange even amongst those of opposing tendencies, and if his eyes tended to glaze over occasionally during a particularly obtuse intervention, he would never intervene harshly.

With his Lebanese background and the presence of his wife, Odile, his homes in Oxford and London became centres of great hospitality. He was the focus of a large network of scholars and friends, and he much enjoyed entertaining his extended Lebanese family. He felt particularly at ease in Oxford, in the United States (where he had several offers of chairs) and in Lebanon, for whose problems he had a deep concern. In his academic work he saw himself as a synthesiser and interpreter.

He valued the works of his contemporaries and predecessors and attempted with his own broad sympathy and understanding to interpret the Arab and Islamic worlds to a Western public. This, together with his founding of the study of the modern history of the Middle East, will be his lasting memorial.