Skip to main content

An Appreciation of the Life of Professor Clifford Edmund Bosworth.

By Ian Richard Netton

I cannot now remember when I first encountered Edmund Bosworth but it must have been well over thirty years ago. Edmund – he preferred to be known by his second name – was an inveterate conference attender whose proceedings he would invariably enliven by his wit and vast erudition. It was on one such occasion that I first bumped into him. As always, his intervention, after the papers had been read during a particular session, was apposite, valuable and deeply erudite. A tall, spare man with unfashionable sideburns, he impressed me hugely then and continued to be a focus, not just of my admiration, but of that of a whole host of scholars and students in the Middle Eastern field who came to know him, to be taught by him or – if they were very lucky – to be supervised by him for their PhDs.

I had the pleasure of being an external examiner for several of his doctoral students at the University of Manchester and it was after  such occasions, and during other visits,  that his generous hospitality came into play. The hospitality to be encountered in the Arab world is famously welcoming and, as a guest in Edmund and Annette's several storied house in Stockport it was always so. Edmund and Annette both fitted into the classical Arab paradigm of warm hospitality with aplomb!

Clifford Edmund Bosworth was born on 29th December 1928 in Sheffield; his early academic education signalled the stellar career which was to follow: first class degrees in Modern History (Oxford) and Middle Eastern Languages (Edinburgh) were followed by a PhD, again at the University of Edinburgh in 1961. Edmund was one of those increasingly rare scholars who was proficient in the three main Middle Eastern Languages of Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

He had a varied academic career but it is with the University of Manchester that he is most associated. Here he was Professor of Arabic Studies from 1977 to 1990 and, thereafter, until his death, Emeritus. He also bore the heavy burden of being Head of Department for most of his time at Manchester.
I had the pleasure, with Professor Carole Hillenbrand, of editing one volume of a two volume Festschrift in Edmund's honour in 2000. In the Foreword I noted that “Bosworth's publications are almost literally legion: he is the envy of his less prolific colleagues. However, quality has never been sacrificed to quantity”. He is famous for his contribution, both as British Editor and author of numerous articles, to the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. He is famous, too, for diverse other scholarly works in the Middle Eastern field which range from a magisterial study of the medieval Islamic underworld to translations from, and extensive commentaries and notes upon, a host of Arabic and Persian texts.

However, less well known is the work which he produced in 2006 entitled An Intrepid Scot: William Lithgow of Lanark's Travels in the Ottoman Lands, North Africa and Central Europe, 1609-21, (Alderrshot/Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2006). It is pleasing to note that interest in this subject was rekindled by attendance at a conference held in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. The book describes the extraordinary travels and misadventures of one, William Lithgow, who died sometime around 1645, through southern Europe, Greece, Istanbul, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo , Tunis, Algiers, Fez, and Malta. This work vividly presents the extraordinary range and diversity of Edmund's scholarship at its best. The blurb on the cover of the book notes that “in addition to the entertainment of the travel narrative, the book shows how one Westerner of the time interpreted the alien East for his readers”.  The past, in the famous words of L.P.Hartley, may always be “a foreign country”. Edmund Bosworth's magisterial scholarship and researches in so many diverse Middle Eastern fields have helped to make the Islamic and Middle Eastern 'past' rather less so. May he rest in peace!