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Lawrence Stone 1920-1999

Lawrence Stone 1920-1999

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Date: June 17, 1999

Lawrence Stone, Social Historian and Founder of Princeton's Davis Center, Dies at 79

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Lawrence Stone, a renowned social historian of early-modern England and founding director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton, died June 16 at his home in Princeton Borough. He was 79 and had been suffering the effects of Parkinson's Disease.

According to Professor Stone, his research interests spanned "the turbulent centuries that carried England from the War of the Roses through the Tudor regime to the Cromwellian Revolution and beyond into the 18th century." His classes at Princeton included an undergraduate course on England from 1470 to 1690 and graduate seminars on the coming of the English Revolution and on England from 1660 to 1770.

Born in Epsom, Surrey, England on December 4, 1919, Stone studied at the Charterhouse School, at the Sorbonne, and at Christ Church, Oxford. His university studies were interrupted by war service as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (1940-45). He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Oxford in 1946 and remained there until 1962, first as a lecturer at University and Corpus Christi colleges and then as a fellow of Wadham College. In 1960-61, he was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Stone joined the Princeton faculty in 1963 as Dodge Professor of History and transferred to emeritus status in 1990. He served as department chair from 1967 to 1970 and in 1968 was named director of the new Davis Center, which was established to develop a focal point for historical research, to encourage innovation and experimentation in teaching, and to stimulate intellectual exchange both within the History Department and between the department and visiting scholars. It supports the Davis Research Seminar, which brings together research scholars from the United States and abroad to work on common problems.

"When Lawrence Stone arrived in Princeton and unpacked his intellectual baggage, he released a fresh set of ideas, which are still buzzing in the air, not merely here but everywhere in the country," said his colleague at Princeton, Robert Darnton. "History, as he presented it to rapt audiences of students and colleagues, cannot be confined to the tiny elite who dominate events. It involves entire populations. To be understood adequately, it requires some mastery of demography, economics, and political science. To be brought alive, it should be narrated in a brisk style, seasoned with amusing anecdotes and provocative arguments -- the more heretical, the better. Lawrence was always in a scrap, always making the fur fly and the ideas soar. He set the pace in what emerged in the 1960s as the new social history, and he remained our pre-eminent historian until the day of his death."

Stone's published works include The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (1965), The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642 (1972), The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977), An Open Elite? England, 1540-1880, written in collaboration with his wife, Jeanne C. Fawtier Stone (1984), Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England 1660-1753 (1992), and Broken Lives: Marital Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857 (1993). Also an authority on English sculpture, he wrote Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages (1955).

A member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Professor Stone was also a corresponding fellow of the British Academy. In 1976, he was awarded Princeton's first annual Howard T. Behrman Award for distinguished achievement in the humanities. He received honorary degrees from universities including Princeton, Chicago, Penn, Edinburgh, and Oxford.

Surviving are his wife, Jeanne Fawtier Stone, and two children, Elizabeth C. Stone Zimansky of Stony Brook, N.Y., and Robert Lawrence Fawtier Stone of Manhattan.

At Professor Stone's request, there will be no funeral.

NOTE: A portrait of Lawrence Stone is available via the World Wide Web at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/99/. Both preview and downloadable versions of the jpeg file are listed by name in the index.

Lawrence Stone

Dynamic academic who made social history exciting

Michael Thompson
Monday July 5, 1999
The Guardian

Lawrence Stone, who has died aged 79, was a key figure, alongside Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson, in the remaking and reshaping of the concept of social history - enlarging its territory and changing its methods by showing how the theories and techniques of social scientists could be applied in historical inquiries. Controversial and impetuous in his youth, he matured into a world-class social historian and remained impetuous to the end.

He was that rare person among the academic species, both a historians' historian and a popular one. Early modern historians will remember him best for his two most scholarly books, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (1965), and An Open Elite? England 1540-1880 (1984); while a wider public will no doubt cherish Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977) and Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987 (1990).

The trajectory of shifting intellectual interests depicted in these books was a reflection of Lawrence Stone's own intellectual and ideological evolution from a young Marxist to, as he himself put it in an interview in 1987, "an old fashioned Whig". At the end, he was dedicated to no cause beyond the estimable one of "making sure that history is never boring".

Lawrence Stone was born in Epsom, and educated at Charterhouse, where the headmaster, Sir Robert Birley, subsequently headmaster of Eton and then professor of social science at the City University, London, was a strong influence. In 1939 he went to the Sorbonne for a year, before going to Christ Church to read modern history on the eve of the second world war, which saw him serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. During the war he met Jeanne Caecelia Fawtier, whom he married in 1943.

Returning to Oxford on demobilisation he quickly got a first and was appointed a lecturer at University College, in 1947. At that time he was a medievalist, having studied the Third Crusade as his special subject. His interest in medieval culture persisted, bearing fruit in the very successful Pelican history of art book, Sculpture in Britain in the Middle Ages (1955).

But in 1947 he was falling under the influence of RH Tawney, and decided that what became known as Tawney's Century, 1540-1640, was the period to study. He saw this as the time when the action got really interesting, when rapid change got under way, marking, as he then thought, the point when England, its institutions and its society, began to become different from Europe. It was also the period when, for the first time, there were surviving sources for the material and emotional lives of individuals and families.

Thus he rapidly transformed himself into a Tudor historian, and rather rashly rushed into print in 1948 with his Anatomy of the Elizabethan Aristocracy. This work of economic determinism sought to uncover the underlying causes of the Civil War by arguing that the aristocracy was on the verge of bankruptcy; unfortunately, this rested on hastily gathered and imperfectly understood evidence. The ensuing controversy, conducted with considerable acrimony in the best traditions of the Oxford history school, did not greatly help his career.

Then, in 1960, he moved to the United States, to Princeton, where freed from the Oxford infighting, Stone flourished. He was a member of the Institute of Advanced Study, from 1963 onwards a professor, then head of Princeton's history department, 1967-70, and from 1968 until his retirement in 1990 the founding director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Centre for Historical Studies.

In 1965 came the book which made his reputation, The Crisis of the Aristocracy in which he abandoned his long and fruitful cultivation of cultural, intellectual, moral and social facets, in search of a new, exciting form of total history informed by concepts derived from anthropology, sociology and psychology.

Such a large book inevitably attracted criticisms, but Stone swept on to further massive undertakings on themes growing out of The Crisis, notably and bravely breaking through the 1660 barrier which conventionally contained early modern historians, and annexing the 18th and 19th centuries in dazzling demonstrations of the value of adopting the longue durée in social and cultural history.

Two further great works of massive research and startling originality were to follow. First, An Open Elite? in which, to a little less than universal agreement, he exposed as a myth the conventional wisdom that an important feature of English society for centuries has been the assimilation of new wealth into the upper class via the purchase of landed estates.

In the process he abandoned the idea that English society was any different from Western European society, and embraced the methodology of computerised quantification which earlier had been denounced as unhistorical and unhelpful.

Second, in Road to Divorce, he exploited the fascinating material in the records of the Court of Arches and other ecclesiastical courts that handled marital, sexual and moral cases, which set a new standard in the graphic chronicling of individual lives from the past and the slowly changing patterns of relationships, expressions of sexuality, and family notions of acceptable behaviour.

In so doing, he virtually jettisoned the analytical history of his youth and fully embraced the narrative and descriptive mode. The story had become worth telling simply because it was a good story.

Lawrence Stone was a dynamic, ebullient, sparkling, benign and mischievous eminence, whose achievement was to make social history interesting and exciting, to stimulate and encourage research, and open up fresh territories and new bodies of evidence.

He died peacefully at home in Princeton and is survived by Jeanne, and their son and daughter.

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