Kolkata, July 17: Eminent historian and academician Barun De died at a private hospital here early Wednesday after a brief illness. De, 80, has left behind his wife, a son and a daughter.
A renowned scholar, De’s main area of research was modern India, and he specialised in the economic history of India in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bengal Renaissance and British constitutional history.
The Marxist historian was an alumnus of Presidency College and Oxford University, and authored “Secularism at Bay: Uzbekistan at the Turn of the Century”, an autobiographical work.
Born in a Brahmo family of then Calcutta (now Kolkata), De was a favourite student of famed historian Sushobhan Sarkar at the Presidency College, and later completed his D.Phil in Indian history in 1961. His thesis “Henry Dundas, and the government of India, (1773-1801): A Study in Constitutional Ideas” received much acclaim.
Revered as an inspiring teacher, De taught at the universities of Calcutta and Burdwan, Indian Institute of Management – Calcutta, as also at the universities of and institutes in Duke, Paris, Milan, Sydney and Tokyo.
He worked as a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Calcutta, besides being appointed as a UGC national lecturer.
Between 1998 and 2001, De occupied the prestigious India Chair at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, and left his mark as Tagore national fellow at the Victoria Memorial from 2010 to 2012.
Known for his administrative skills, De was appointed the first director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), in 1973, and continued in that post till 1983.
At IIM – Calcutta, he was the first Indian Post-Graduate Programme Director, and contributed to the setting up of the management diploma course there.
De served as the general secretary (from 1973 to 1975) of the Indian History Congress, and was made the general president (1988) of its Dharwar session.
From 1979 to 1983, he functioned as the state editor of the West Bengal District Gazetteers, and also had a stint as the chairman of the West Bengal State Archives, Calcutta.
He was chairman of the West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC) from 2008 to 2011.
De’s demise has shocked the academic world.
Historian Sugato Bose described De as a “fountain of knowledge” and an “inspiring teacher”.
Calcutta University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das, who was De’s student, called him an academic genius and a caring teacher.