Professor George ‘Sam’ Shepperson, with CAS since its 1962 beginnings, passes away
CAS regrets to announce the passing of Professor George ‘Sam’ Shepperson at the age of 98.
Sam joined the University in 1948 and held the William Robertson Chair in History between 1963 and his retirement in 1986. When the Centre of African Studies (CAS) was established in 1962, Sam played a crucial role in getting it off the ground and defending its existence over the years. Sam’s secondment to the King’s African Rifles, in East Africa and Burma, during the Second World War sparked a longstanding academic interest and personal engagement with Central and East Africa, especially Malawi. His most remarkable academic contribution was (with Thomas Price) was Independent African, which is still regarded as a classic despite being published as far back as 1958. Its account of the personal odyssey of John Chilembwe, from pastor to the instigator of an armed insurrection in colonial Nyasaland, provided a model for how to weave an intellectual biography around a tale of international connectivity. It was an exemplar of Global History avant le mot. Sam was arguably the first academic historian to really bridge African American and African history, and inspired others to follow in his footsteps. He supervised numerous doctoral projects on facets of Pan-Africanism, a number of which were published and became foundational texts in their right. Although Sam experienced a prolonged period of ill-health after his retirement in Peterborough, he was only too happy to hold forth over the telephone and generously fielded requests for assistance from researchers. The donation of most of his papers to the University of Edinburgh collections has also left us with an unusual set of sources that cannot be found anywhere else. In 2015, Sam was not able to attend the Edinburgh conference that marked the centenary of Chilembwe rising. But a video link was arranged, and from his contribution it is clear that he never stopped re-thinking this episode in Central African history - to the point of actually suggesting that there had been too much of a focus on Chilembwe to the neglect of other figures in the plot. 1n 1951, Sam published a moving, and also very funny, account of his personal efforts to provide a fitting burial for one Lance-Corporal Amidu - a Malawian soldier who lost his life in an accident before the fighting even began [published in Phylon Vol. 12, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1951), pp. 55-64]. It would be nice to think that Sam and Amidu might be reunited somewhere in the cosmos almost eight decades later.