Sunday, 25 April 2010

Professor Duncan Tanner

Sadly, Professor Duncan Tanner died recently (you can see an obituary here, and another one here). He was only 51, and his death was a shock to many people. I wanted to share some of the experiences I had of listening to him speak. This is not an attempt to write another obituary but to share the one or two brief experiences I had of meeting him. I have been inspired to write something based on the very positive experiences I had of listening to him.

The first time I met him was during a AHRC-sponsored event for people embarking on their PhDs. I remembering him speaking with great enthusiasm for his current area of research: the history of Welsh devolution. The second time, was at a workshop last year at the University of Birmingham on non-government activism in post-war Britain. Professor Tanner attended and spoke on the possibilities and challenges associated with writing really contemporary history. He gave fascinating and useful insights into his work and carefully described research and career opportunities for young researchers.

During a coffee break at the workshop, I asked him for some advice concerning the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. He was an expert on the workings of the Act, and was full of ideas for its potential for contemporary historians. My own research focuses on the history Citizens' Advice Bureaux, a charity designed to help individuals in their dealings with the state. I was having difficulties getting hold of certain records which may or may not have been covered by the FOI legislation. I approached Professor Tanner to ask how best I should frame a request for information.

Professor Tanner was extremely helpful in his suggestions. He gave me contacts and ideas on how best to approach the relevant authorities with my requests for information. At the same time he seemed interested in my work and gave me encouragement to pursue requests under FOI. I also remember him coming for a drink with the attendees afterwards, most of whom were doctoral students, to ask about their research.

As someone who had only a fleeting experience of Duncan Tanner, I will remember him as a very helpful and inspiring academic.

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