Obituary: Professor J. K. Eastham

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The Independent Online
Jack Kenneth Eastham, economist: born Poynton, Cheshire 15 July 1901; Senior Lecturer, Director of Studies and Acting Principal, Dundee School of Economics 1931-55; married Marjorie Johnston (died 1987; one son, one daughter); died Parc y Llyn, North Wales 1 August 1993.

FOR THE BEST part of 25 years 'economics' in Dundee meant JK ('Jake') Eastham. He went there in 1931 as one of the first two teaching appointments in the newly established School of Economics and, aside from government service during the war, he remained with the school, as Senior Lecturer, Director of Studies and Acting Principal until its fusion into St Andrews University in 1955.

The school had been founded by a prominent local textile manufacturer, George Bonar, reflecting his willingness to invest in 'Education for Business' and the school's principal, James Bowie, left nobody in any doubt about his own belief that the core should be what could broadly be called Management Studies. But the first two academic staff both came straight from the London School of Economics.

Responsibility for the financing of the Dundee School had been assumed by Dundee Education Authority, whose chairman, flattered maybe by the interest of Josiah Stamp and William Beveridge, saw it as a Scottish mini-LSE. 'We are secure,' he said at the opening, 'in the encouragement of the London School of Economics.' The consequence was that, whatever the founder or principal may have envisaged, the school's academic strategy was based on a belief in the primacy of economic theory.

The foundation of the Dundee School came at a time when fundamental changes were occurring in the scope and method of economic theory, particularly in the UK and the United States. Eastham was firmly convinced of the sterility of what he regarded as 'the tedious excursions into amateur technology, sociology and aesthetics' of the economic theory of the 1920s, and an enthusiastic advocate of the value of the new approaches being developed by Keynes, EH Chamberlain, Joan Robinson and Sir John Hicks. He therefore ensured that his students at the Dundee School in the 1930s were well aware of the latest theories emanating from the LSE and Cambridge. In the process, he consciously rejected the Scottish tradition of political economy in favour of the rigour of economic science.

Eastham's colleagues and fellow contributors to the ferment of ideas in the early years at the Dundee School included JC Gilbert, Duncan Black and RH Coase. A determination to incorporate discussion of the latest theoretical developments, appropriately synthesised, characterised Eastham's undergraduate teaching throughout his career, and absorbed his academic energies. Besides chapters and articles, he published two textbooks, the second of which, Graphical Economics, was a pioneer in Britain in its use of numerous clear diagrams to expound theory. Although a demanding lecturer, he was a patient tutor, with obvious zest for educating young minds.

While no one would belittle the success of the principal in relevant public relations, the Dundee School became what Eastham wanted it to be. With a very small staff it achieved increasing success (both in numbers and quality) in the London BSc (Econ). Every student, whether a trainee chartered accountant or one offering economics as his final degree option, learnt from Eastham that theory involved rigid mental discipline and unremitting attention. One of his students recalls - with affection - how she and the other females in a third- year class decided to cut a lecture to hear the broadcast of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. 'Alas,' she writes, 'the wrath of Olympus descended on the rebels, with JK in full war cry, demanding their immediate attention to the Principles of Economic Analysis.'

But by the early 1950s the survival of the school was in doubt. The principal died in 1949, creating an opportunity for a review by what was then a less sympathetic local education authority looking for ways of providing more commercial education in the traditional fields of book-keeping and typing. In informal discussions it was made clear to Eastham that if he would agree to this diversification he would be favourably regarded to succeed Bowie as principal. Believing that - as with Gresham's Law - the bad drive out the good, he refused. With the gift of hindsight we can see that his refusal sealed his fate in Dundee for when, after the Tedder Commission, the school was merged into Queen's College in St Andrews University, Eastham's status qualified him for nothing more than a Senior Lecturership and the exclusion of all local candidates from the Chair in the new college left him in an embarrassing and anomalous position.

So after a couple of uneasy years he left, taking up temporary professorship in Ankara, and Nigeria, which had the double merit of restoring his self-esteem and enabling him to see more of the world and its archaeological remains.

Although we think of Kenneth Eastham as an economist, he was a man of catholic interests and far-ranging knowledge. Born in the first year of this century in Hampshire, he was just in the Army in 1918. Before settling down to economics, he read enough natural science to understand his wife's work on the chemistry of paint. Similarly his lifelong interest in the pictorial arts and in music has been echoed in their son's work as a sculptor. Their second child, Judy, is a geographer and town planner.

(Photograph omitted)