Jim Bennett, 1947-2023

I don’t intend for this blog to become a stream of obituaries, but I have just learned that Jim Bennett died last October. He was my supervisor and mentor for my Cambridge MPhil in the History and Philosophy of Science, and helped me over the intellectual hurdle into the humanities; in fact he probably gave me some of the best advice on writing I have ever received. He recommended me to Peter Bowler for the Belfast research assistantship which became my PhD, and was then the external examiner who gave me that PhD several years later.

He was tough but fair as a teacher. I remember a couple of teaching moments with him vividly: his class on how to use an astrolabe was masterfully clear, and postgraduate seminars featured Babbage’s original notes for the Difference Engine, and a 17th-century prism “as would have been used by Newton” which, as he eventually revealed, was in fact the actual prism that had been used by Newton. My career took a very different path in the end, but I will always be grateful for the early encouragement that he offered at the point that I seemed to be heading down an academic track.

Here he is in 2010, with his gentle Belfast accent, introducing the Oxford Mueum of the History of Science, which he moved to in 1994. He had cropped the Einstein-like shock of hair that I remember him having in Cambridge.

Thanks, Jim.