Celebrating the career of Joachim Whaley

  • 24 June 2022

Celebrations are many and varied at the end of the academic year in Cambridge. This weekend will see Gonville & Caius College Fellow Professor Joachim Whaley FBA honoured.

Professor Whaley, known as Jo to many, retired in 2021, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the event to celebrate his career and retirement. It will now take place at Caius on Saturday 25 June.

Jo joined Caius in 1987 after two years as a Fellow at Christ’s – where he had been a History undergraduate – and eight years as a Fellow at Robinson. He has served Caius with distinction since, including as Senior Tutor from 1989 to 1999. He also served as Head of the German Department, and as the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages Year Abroad Officer.

“Ironically the only thing I wanted to do was to study History and I resisted all of my parents’ advice that I had a natural advantage to study German,” Jo recalls.

“I really didn’t want to study languages, least of all German. And yet, the ability to speak German and the knowledge I had of Germany from home was probably one of the most useful things in my career.

“I ended up being a lecturer in German, and it never occurred to me that that might be an option. In Modern Languages I was appointed to teach history as a framework for thinking about language and culture and literature.”

Where previously there was a “constant tension between being College Lecturer in History and my University Lectureship in German”, Caius offered the space to work freely, says Jo, who was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2015.

Saturday’s event will celebrate Jo’s interdisciplinary pursuits, with a lecture in the Bateman Auditorium delivered by the Regius Professor of History, Professor Sir Chris Clark, on “The future in retrospect”, focusing on the German Historical Imagination and 1848 Revolution. A drinks reception and dinner will follow.

Invited guests include colleagues and students, past and present, from the UK and Germany, including contributors to a volume in progress on The German National Imagination: Visions of the German Past and Future from the Early Modern Period to the Present. The volume is being collated in honour of Jo’s contribution as an historian of Modern Germany, most notably as the author of an acclaimed two-volume work, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire 1493-1806, published in 2012 by Oxford University Press. The event and volume have been organised by Caius Fellow in German Dr Anita Bunyan, with Dr Charlotte Woodford and Dr Margarete Tiessen.

Anita paid tribute to Jo’s sustained commitment to undergraduate teaching and his support of his undergraduate and postgraduate students, his unrivalled efficiency and work ethic, “going far beyond the call of duty”.

He designed two influential undergraduate courses – ‘An introduction to German History and Thought’, and ‘The German Historical Imagination: History and Identity in Germany from 1750 to the present’ – which had, and continue to have, a significant impact.

“In educating generations of undergraduate and postgraduate students of German at Cambridge, Jo has very much shaped the way in which they were given opportunities to learn about the wider intellectual and historical contexts of the literary and philosophical texts they study,” Anita adds. In 2010 Jo was awarded a Pilkington Teaching Prize by the University of Cambridge for his outstanding teaching in German history, thought, and politics.

His experience as Senior Tutor of Caius gave Jo encyclopaedic knowledge of the University of Cambridge and Caius from a tutorial perspective, both in education and pastorally and he is still a valued source of advice for tutors grappling with the university’s Statutes and Ordinances as they seek to use them to support their students. Similarly, in the Faculty of MML, he was influential in authoring and clarifying criteria and guidelines for examining and marking, and for 10 years he supported over 300 students on their year abroad annually.

“He was enormously supportive of all the students who were abroad and found themselves in any difficulty,” Anita says.

“He most famously would offer a 24/7, 365-days-a-year support service.”

Jo remains active at Caius, even in retirement, chairing the Research Fellowship Committee which assesses 400 annual applications for two Fellowships in the Arts and Humanities, awarded annually, and working on a history of the Germans from the beginning to the Berlin Republic today.

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