Obituary: Professor Lisa Jardine, CBE, FRS, author and broadcaster

Born: 12 April 1944, in Oxford. Died: 25 October 2015, in London, aged 71
Lisa Jardine: Historian and broadcaster was a leading figure in science, the arts and humanitiesLisa Jardine: Historian and broadcaster was a leading figure in science, the arts and humanities
Lisa Jardine: Historian and broadcaster was a leading figure in science, the arts and humanities

Lisa Jardine was a renowned and distinguished historian, broadcaster and former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In truth she was a polymath who was a leading figure in science, the arts and humanities. Jardine wrote on a wide range of subjects with an erudite fascination including Sir Christopher Wren, the Netherlands in the 17th century, Erasmus, women in the time of Shakespeare, and humanism. Her warm and relaxed personality was, perhaps, best witnessed on the radio – principally as a commentator on history and the arts on Radios 3 and 4 although she was also seen on television.

Jardine was a remarkable linguist being fluent in eight languages – when she was washed ashore on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs earlier this year she chose as her book, the full 12 volumes of PS Allen’s Latin Letters of Erasmus of Rotterdam – in the original Latin.

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Alan Rushbridger former editor of The Guardian and friend of many years, said yesterday, “Lisa was tough, warm, funny, a fearless fighter and a wonderfully eclectic scholar.”

Lisa Anne Bronowski was the daughter of Jacob Bronowski, the eminent Polish academic who wrote and presented the trail-blazing BBC documentary The Ascent of Man in the 1970s, and Rita Coblentz. She won a scholarship to Cheltenham Ladies’ College and then read Maths and English at Newham College, Cambridge, Essex University and did a mathematical Tripos at Cambridge. She was awarded a PhD at Cambridge with a thesis on Francis Bacon: Discovery and the Art of 

From 2008- 14 Jardine was a most active chair of HFEA and involved in many of the Authority’s campaigns, speaking with knowledge and a profound understanding of the matter in hand. Jardine was particularly concerned with HFEA’s efforts to reduce multiple births and provide fairer compensation for donors.

Jardine was an ardent campaigner on behalf of the sciences and in 1993 remonstrated against the BBC for “peddling dumbed-down science. The Corporation underestimates how much its viewers and listeners understand”. Jardine spoke with practical experience as not only was she president of the British Science Association but had a hands-on knowledge of programme making as she had presented Radio 4’s widely praised Seven Ages of Science.

In all her scientific undertakings she was keen to broaden the base of scientific knowledge and encourage students to get involved. She often said in the Seven Ages of Science that she wanted “to weave science back into everyday life and show how the concerns of the scientist are the concerns of us all.”

She was regularly heard on the radio – especially Nightwaves and A Point of View. Her calm and authoritative delivery gave the programmes a distinction and professionalism. Her contributions on A Point of View elegantly reflected the diverse nature of her interests and her subjects included climate change through to diary writing and the reputation of American presidents. Last year in a programme about the First World War (The Long Shadows of War) Jardine made a detailed case that, “there should be a way to commemorate war without glamorising it”.

Her work in academia gained a wider acknowledgement in 2012 when the Faculties of Arts and Humanities, which she had founded in 2002, joined the University College London. This enabled Jardine’s department to develop archive-based research projects of relevance from between 1500–1800.

The new department gave her space to concentrate her passions and develop the connections between the arts, science, global commodities and the historic relationships between England and Holland. She built up a team of devoted researchers whose scholarly work reflected her own dedication and passions.

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Jardine sat on many national bodies and was awarded the CBE. Amongst her academic awards she held honorary doctorates from the universities of St Andrews, Sheffield, Aberdeen and the Open University.

Imran Khan, of the British Science Association, said yesterday: “We remember Lisa as a curious thinker with a fierce intellect, and a true champion of broadening and diversifying the community of people engaged in science.”

Jardine was an inspirational historian with a commanding intellect. She had a courteous manner and defused many situations – in the studio or the lecture hall – with her winning and gracious smile. That personality was witnessed when she gave her inaugural lecture at UCL which was being recorded “for posterity”. She relieved the inevitable tension with her opening words: “The trouble with being recorded for posterity is, just what do you wear?”

She married scientist Nicholas Jardine in 1969. That marriage was dissolved in 1979. In 1982 she married the architect John Hare. She is survived by two children from her first marriage and one from her second.