OBITUARY:Stewart Oakley

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The Independent Online
Stewart Oakley was a leading member of that small group of academics working to promote our understanding of Scandinavia. He taught at the University of East Anglia for 15 years, and was a founding member and long-standing chairman of the Nordic History Group, formed to bring together academics and further the study of Scandinavia.

Oakley read history at Lincoln College, Oxford, graduating in 1952, and became a teacher at Highgate School. His passion for languages and history led, however, to his developing an interest in Swedish history and to the preparation of a PhD at the London School of Economics under the supervision of the distinguished European historian Ragnhild Hatton. This was followed by appointments at Exeter and Edinburgh Universities.

Although Oakley had already established his academic credentials, with his history of Sweden The Story of Sweden, before moving to the University of East Anglia in 1969 as a lecturer in history, it was during his years there in Norwich that he more fully developed an international reputation as a scholar. As well as numerous articles, appearing in a variety of languages, he published The Story of Denmark (1972). In 1987 there appeared a study of "William III and the Northern Crowns during the Nine Years' War 1689-1697" - substantial both in terms of its length and quality. War and Peace in the Baltic 1560-1790 was published in 1993. This book attracted critical acclaim because of the breadth of its author's knowledge - and the display of linguistic skills which very few could hope to emulate - and for his ability to analyse and clearly explain an extremely complicated series of historical events. It is the work of a professional historian at the height of his powers.

In recent years, while continuing to work on the political history of the Baltic region, Oakley had also engaged in pioneering research on the very different subject of the Scandinavian peasant, leading to the publication of a number of articles, and first among them, in 1981, a study of "The Geography of Peasant Eco-types in Pre-Industrial Scandinavia". We can only be dismayed that he did not have time to complete the two important books he was writing - a biography of Gustavus III, king of Sweden in the late 18th century, and a comparative study of the pre-industrial peasantry of Scandinavia.

Stewart Oakley shared with Kate Kalbag, his partner for the past five years, a love of music, of gardening and of good food. His work at UEA until his retirement as Reader in 1994 says a great deal about his conscientious approach to life, about his commitment to his students, and about his intellect and his zest for life. As a teacher he was highly effective, always knowledgeable and able to convey his great enthusiasm for history. The range of his teaching was exceptional. Above all, perhaps, both students and colleagues will remember his kindness and his willingness to devote time and energy to helping them.

Roger Price

Stewart Philip Oakley, historian: born Kenton, Middlesex 21 April 1931; Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, Department of History, University of East Anglia 1969-84; Chairman, Nordic History Group 1977-95; married 1956 Helen Condon (three daughters; marriage dissolved); died Norwich 18 July 1995.