South Australia’s history community is commemorating the contributions of Flinders University Emeritus Professor Eric Richards, an internationally recognised researcher in British and Australian social history, who tragically passed away in London on 21 September 2018.
A giant of the history community at Flinders, South Australia and internationally for over 35 years, Professor Richards authored and edited many publications, with particular focus on Scottish history, and British and Australian immigration history.
His most recent book, ‘The genesis of international mass migration’ published in July 2018, analysed why so many people left the British Isles for the new worlds in the late 18th century in a mass exodus that heralded modern international migration.
He commenced at Flinders in 1971 and was quickly promoted from lecturer, to senior lecturer, reader and then appointed as professor in 1975.
Working internationally and establishing himself globally as the leading historian of the Scottish Highland Clearances, Professor Richards was a pioneer in his work understanding major events of the past.
Professor Vanessa Lemm, Vice President and Executive Dean of Flinders’ College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, acknowledged Professor Richards’ substantial contributions to education and research in his field.
“Professor Richards was well-known for his diligent contribution to both the greater history community and our University, through his research across economic, social, political and environmental history,” Professor Lemm said.
“His ability to look at both big and small movements in time, yet treat all as worthy of attention and even infusing minor events with major ideas, is a testament to his passion for a humane understanding of history.
“Many in the community will remember Professor Richards for his modest and gentle nature, and his desire to help students and fellow scholars in any way he could.”
Long-time colleague, Associate Professor Andrekos Varnava, reflected on Professor Richards’ mentorship, professionalism and personable approach.
“Emeritus Professor Eric Richards was a towering figure in the history of migration and the history of the Scottish Highlands over the last 50 years,” Associate Professor Varnava said.
“He will be remembered as a prolific researcher, an inspiring mentor and role model, a brilliant speaker, and as a genuinely sincere and humble human being, with a passion for playing tennis, only matched by his love for his discipline and its progress.”
In 2017, Associate Professor Varnava, along with Flinders’ Professor Philip Payton, co-organised a conference in Professor Richards’ honour, the Eric Richards Symposium.
“His death was a shock, but he lives on through his work, and through the conference we started at Flinders in his honour, the ‘Eric Richards Symposium in British and Australasian History’.
“This symposium will be next hosted by the University of New England,” Associate Professor Varnava said.
Professor Richards was appointed a Fellow of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1984, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1986, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1991, a Member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness in 1998, he was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for “Services to the Arts and Australian Society” in 2003, won the Book Award of the Scottish Arts Council in 1982 and the Scottish History Book of the Year in 1999, received the NSW Premier’s Literary Prize in 2009, and became a Carnegie Trust Centenary Professor in Scotland in 2014.
He was also the first person to be honoured with the award of Historian of the Year by the History Council of South Australia in 2012.
Amongst his wealth of achievements, Professor Richards was the Head of the History Department at Flinders for many years, and upon retirement was made an Emeritus Professor.
He is survived by his children and his wife, University of Adelaide Professor Ngaire Naffine, his daughters Lou and Sally and grandchildren Stephanie and Bodie.