Leading anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain, who was fascinated by Maltese society and wrote several books and research papers about the island, passed away yesterday at the age of 87.
Prof. Boissevain was a long-time observer of Maltese feasts and was most known for his book Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in Rural Malta, first published in 1965.
The Dutch professor is credited for having strengthened the teaching of anthropology at the University of Malta, where he also lectured as a visiting professor.
“Jeremy Boissevain’s scholarly contribution is very hard to do justice to it. His fieldwork in Malta over a period of 50 years produced a wealth of deep insights into Maltese society – politics and ritual, in particular. He was, of course, a world-renowned anthropologist and a tremendous fieldworker,” fellow anthropologist Mark-Anthony Falzon said.
Paul Clough, professor in anthropology at the University of Malta, said he got to know Prof. Boissevain in 1992 on campus.
His death comes as a very sad surprise to me. He’s made a big difference to the actual teaching of anthropology and the development of anthropology at the University of Malta
“His death comes as a very sad surprise to me. Jeremy was a huge help to me during the years I was head of anthropology studies at the University of Malta. He recommended a number of visiting academics who taught in Malta. He’s made a big difference to the actual teaching of anthropology and the development of anthropology at the University of Malta,” he said.
Prof. Boissevain first came to Malta in 1956 as chief of mission of the American relief organisation CARE (Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere). His role led to a clash with former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, since the Malta Labour Party printed posters saying: “Vote for Labour and get CARE food,” though CARE was a non-political organisation.
As time passed, he came to admire Mr Mintoff and ended up being a consultant to the Labour prime minister, he said in various interviews.
He returned to Malta to carry out research for his PhD in the early 1960s and then visited frequently, travelling back and forth between his Dutch residence and his house in Naxxar. Prof. Boissevain, an emeritus professor at the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, was also quoted as saying that Malta presented him with an anthropological challenge, something he loved and relished.
Dr Falzon noted: “I would like to think he will soon be settling down to some top-notch ethnography of heaven. Somewhat more personally, his life work and his generosity with his time, wisdom and hospitality were of inspiration to a great many of us. He will be very sorely missed.”
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