David Daube

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it seems appropriate in this Blog to remember David Daube. He was one of a vitally important group of refugees from Nazism who invigorated British and American academic life. There have been various books exploring this, most notably for law, Jurists Uprooted (2004). But these are just a few personal remarks on one of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century. In his appointments at Cambridge, Aberdeen, and Oxford, Daube had a major impact on British academic life, particularly in law.

I did not know Daube; but in his absence he has always been a strong presence in my scholarly life from undergraduate days through, above all, my teacher and doctoral supervisor, Alan Watson, but also through others, such as Alan Rodger, whom I got to know through the Edinburgh Roman Law Group. Indeed I knew slightly Daube’s other graduate students Reuven Yaron, Calum Carmichael, Peter Stein and Bernard Jackson, the last of whom also taught me as an undergraduate.

But my vision of Daube is really that I acquired through Alan Watson. So, of course, my impression of him also reflects Alan’s own character, and, for that matter, no doubt my own.   Alan was a man full of anecdotes, about his life and that of others, often witty, sometimes wry, and frequently emotional and moving.

One thing that interested Alan, and indeed me, was Daube’s focus on apparently small issues, particularly of language, that illuminate and explain much more than a general, received, grand narrative. It was the small that often explained the big. A view both humanist and humane, and ultimately very encouraging. This is especially worth recalling today.