In memoriam: Stuart Woolf
Stuart Woolf, who died in Florence on 1 May at the age of eighty-five, was a Professor in the History department at the EUI from 1983 to 1993. Born in London in 1936, he was educated at St. Marylebone Grammar School and Oxford University. From Oxford, where he took a PhD in 1960, he went to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to be a fellow and assistant director of studies, and in 1965 he took up a position at the University of Reading. While at Reading, he set up, and was the first Director of, the Centre for the Advanced Study of Italian Society, with lively seminars, a well-stocked library and a large number of visiting fellows. Other Italian historians who taught there included Paul Corner, Adrian Lyttleton, Christopher Duggan and David Laven, thereby establishing Reading as a leading research institute for the history of modern Italy. After Reading, Stuart went to the University of Essex in 1975 to be the Foundation Professor of History and later Head of Department. After leaving the EUI he finished his career at Ca’ Foscari in Venice, where he created the European Doctorate in the Social History of Europe and the Mediterranean, entitled “Building on the Past”. On retirement from Ca’ Foscari he was named Emeritus Professor there.
Italy and Italian history were the abiding passions of Stuart’s life. In 1959 he married an Italian, Anna de Benedetti, and they had an Anglo-Italian daughter, Deborah, who was born in 1963. They lived in a beautiful house in Settignano, over the hills from the EUI. Stuart was a keen gardener and both Anna and he were accomplished hosts. From Settignano he also commuted to Ca’ Foscari to teach (‘Florence and Venice,’ he once told me: he was ‘living every Englishman’s dream’). Until illness curtailed his activities, he regularly attended seminars and workshops in Italy and elsewhere, and he maintained an especially close relationship with the EUI and frequently used its library.
Still, Italy was only the starting point for Stuart’s wide-ranging interests. Among his many qualities as a historian was an unusual broadness of vision along with an admirable attention to detail. His particular interest was social history, and he wrote on poverty, agriculture and rural life, the development of statistics, and domestic work. In a context of increasing specialization, he bucked the trend, publishing on fields as varied as the sixteenth-century nobility, the Risorgimento, Napoleonic Europe, nationalism, fascism, Republican Italy and the history of Val d’Aosta. Of particular note was Stuart’s ability to cross the chronological boundaries that still divide our discipline. His refusal to confine himself to a single century left its mark on the History department at the EUI, which still benefits from a very heterogeneous approach to historical periodization. He also brought a taste of Europe to Britain. He was instrumental in introducing European historians and their methodologies to Anglophone readers. It was also Stuart who translated Primo Levi’s stories of the Holocaust and made sure that they reached a global audience.
A man of sharp intellect and strong views, Stuart was not one to be left out of the limelight. He made his mark on the field in many ways. He was, one of his former students has remarked, a great ‘organizer,’ he was a networker before the term was invented, and he worked ceaselessly to promote colleagues whose work he approved of and to defend the study of history in universities. Above all his legacy will live on in the students he taught and supervised, many of whom now hold prestigious positions of their own, and in the generations of colleagues who he helped and advised. In his career, Stuart Woolf was the very antithesis of the little-England ‘Brexiteer’, and his life serves as a reminder that British people can be the most enthusiastic Europeans.