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Cushman, Jennifer (1945–1989)

by Virginia Matheson and Tony Milner

The sudden death of Dr Jennifer Cushman, of the Department of Far Eastern History, RSPacS, on 12 July has shocked her colleagues, students and many other friends. She was only 44 and renowned for her vitality. Jennifer was a popular and gifted teacher and an ideal colleague. She was increasingly recognised as a leading contributor to international research on the overseas Chinese.

Her Cornell PhD thesis, Fields from the Sea: Chinese Junk Trade with Siam during the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries, completed in 1975 (a pioneering work using Chinese and Thai sources), was published in Thai in 1985. She came to ANU as a research fellow in 1975 and continued to write on the Chinese in Southeast Asia.

Her publications include a major article translating and analysing Chinese accounts of the Malay Peninsula, and a number of studies of Chinese commercial activity in the region.

She was an organiser of an important conference on the Chinese in Southeast Asia, and the book arising from the Conference, Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese since World War II, which she edited with Professor Wang Gungwu, has recently been described as 'the conceptually most important book' on the subject since the 1950s.

A book on a leading Sino-Thai family has just been completed and will be published under the title Family and State: The Formation of a Sino-Thai Tin Mining Dynasty, 1810-1932.

Jennifer was an American who not only often visited her family and her former university, but generously used her links with Cornell to foster a lively exchange between Asianists there and in Australia.

She was strongly committed to the development of Asian studies in Australia. As a guiding force in the Asian Studies Association's Review, she worked to develop debate within the profession. Here and in her role in the latest Australian Asian Studies Association Conference, held at ANU in 1988, Jennifer was one of those who helped give ANU a central role in Asian studies.

Within the University she was well known in The Faculties as well as the Research School. Her teaching, committee work, supervision of graduate students and research brought her into contact with a wide range of people. Canberra is, of course, a rather compartmentalised society, and Jennifer was one of the few who, although never wavering in her commitment to history and to Asian studies, moved easily between the worlds of academia, government and business. Many members of the ANU community will have been grateful for the way Jennifer and her diplomat husband, Tony Kevin, introduced us to a wider world at their informal gatherings at Burra.

For many she will be remembered not only for her scholarship, teaching and generosity, but as the loving wife of Tony and good friend of his sons Patrick and Charles. She will be greatly missed by her parents, Micky and Noble Abrahams, of Ithaca, New York.

Original publication

Citation details

Virginia Matheson and Tony Milner, 'Cushman, Jennifer (1945–1989)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cushman-jennifer-282/text283, accessed 24 October 2017.

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