The Centre for the Study ofthe History of Political Thought

Honorary Degree for Prof. (Emeritus) J. G. A. Pocock

J. G. A. Pocock was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters in absentia by Queen Mary University of London on the 20th of July 2016. The following is his message on this occasion:

Message from J. G. A. Pocock, On Receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Letters at Queen Mary University of London:

I have to thank Queen Mary first for the honor you are doing me; second for your generous forbearance in allowing me to accept it in absentia; and thirdly, for all you are doing as a center of learning to maintain and keep active an intellectual discipline in which I and others, including members of your most distinguished faculty, have been engaged for many years. In accepting this degree, I am conscious of speaking as a member of a company, some no longer with us, others present today, and others I am sure active in joining us, making up a continuum it is an honor to represent on this occasion. It has been, and still is, an active fellowship, and my memories of it go back nearly seventy years, to universities I should name on this occasion—Canterbury, Cambridge, Washington in St. Louis, Johns Hopkins, to name only those with which I had the privilege of association; the list could be indefinitely prolonged and has not done growing.

The fellowship’s activity has been the study of politics, or rather the study of the study of politics: politics as lived in, thought about, written about and imagined; a study going on in history, having and writing a history of its own, and doing much to create both the history we are, and the history we think we are, living in. That we happen to be meeting today at a particularly discouraging moment in history in most of these senses is a reason for enlarging the activity and criticizing its foundations but not a reason for giving it up. That in the seventy years I am able to recall, this study has focused mainly on the early modern periods and on the civilization we call western is true but no matter for apology; we are beginning to study what went on in other civilizations and to ask the intellects of those civilizations to challenge and instruct us, and if we find that the parameters of political thought have been geographically and historically finite, that will be what we have found out.

In accepting this doctorate, I must name others, living and dead, without whose work I should not be here, even in absentia today, and should never have done anything deserving your attention. Here at Queen Mary you have Quentin Skinner, who laid foundations in 1969 and is building on them still. You have Richard Bourke, whose monumental work on his great namesake studies Burke’s writings in their order and shows how they built the life of a mind in politics. When I permit my memory to look back, I see a legion of faces, and know that I could have called up many others, composing in several countries the fellowship of which I have spoken: Herbert Butterfield, Peter Laslett, Jack Hexter, Donald Kelley, Thomas Kuhn, Michael Oakeshott, Hans Baron, Caroline Robbins, John Wallace, William Lamont, Franco Venturi, Felix Gilbert, Nicholas Phillipson, Richard Sher, Istvan Hont, John Burrow. I give you these names in no particular order, and could have gone on adding to them until your patience ran out. Such is the richness of the field in which I have spent my life. Permit me to add two societies and a couple of names with them: the Conference for the Study of Political Thought, co-founded with Melvin Richter in the 1960s, and the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought, co-founded in the 1980s with Gordon Schochet, Lena Cowan Orlin and Lois Greene Schwoerer. These names may be transient in your memory today, but you are honoring them as well as me, for which I thank you.

J. G. A. Pocock