It is with great sadness that I convey news of the death of Eugene F. Irschick, a distinguished historian of South Asia and a member of the Berkeley History Department since 1964. Born in 1934, Gene passed away on November 10, 2022, in El Dorado Hills, California, at the age of 88.
Gene was born in India, the son of Lutheran missionaries. He was a graduate of the missionary-sponsored Kodaikanal International School. In later life he became sharply critical of the missionary project, but remained proud of Kodaikanal’s high academic reputation. Of the twelve boys in his high school class of 1949, eleven went on to obtain Ph.D or M.D. degrees. Gene came to the United States to attend Gettysburg College, from which he graduated in 1955 with a B.A. with honors in History and a minor in Greek and Religion. He then took an M.A in the University of Pennsylvania's South Asia Regional Studies Program, before entering the doctoral program in History at the University of Chicago. Immediately upon completion of his degree there in 1964 he joined the Department of History at UC Berkeley. He retired in 2010.
The first of Gene’s books was Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahmin Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916-1929 (UC Press, 1969), which grew out of his doctoral dissertation. The second, Tamil Revivalism in the 1930s (Crea, 1986) continued his engagement with the South India of his own childhood and youth. During the later years of his publishing career, he became engaged with postmodern theory and wrote a very different book, Dialogue and History: Constructing South India, 1795-1895 (UC Press, 1994). Although the raw materials for this book remained those found in the history of the Tamil regions of India, Gene’s analytic approach was different. While his earlier work had been strongly empirical, this new work, inspired by the Russian social theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, offered a fresh approach to the history of India organized around cognitive structures. He was additionally the author of the textbook A History of the New India: Past and Present (Routledge, 2015).
Gene’s mentorship and care are warmly remembered by students and colleagues. A tribute can be found on the website of the Institute for South Asia Studies at this link.
At this time of loss, our thoughts go out to Gene’s wife Gabriela Gerlach of Folsom, California, his former wife Ann Feeney, and his children Jessica, Katherine, Michael, Duncan, and Sophie Charlotte.
Professor and Chair of History