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La Nauze, Andrew John (1911–1990)

by Allan Martin

Professor John Andrew La Nauze, who was head of the Department of History, Research School of Social Sciences, from 1966 to 1976, died in Canberra on 20 August after a long illness. He was 79.

A Western Australian Rhodes Scholar, La Nauze returned in 1935 from Oxford to Australia and taught Economics and Economic History in the Universities of Adelaide and Sydney. In 1950 he was appointed to the chair of Economic History in the University of Melbourne. In 1956 he became the first Ernest Scott Professor of History, thus beginning a notable decade in tandem with R. M. Crawford at the head of Melbourne University's celebrated school of History. 

Generations of colleagues and pupils learnt from his example and his criticisms of the standards of clear thinking, accuracy, honesty and craftsmanship to which the professional historian had a duty to aspire. His nickname, 'Jack the Knife' (used behind his back occasionally in fear but mostly with wry affection), nicely caught at his contempt for shoddy scholarship. The other side of his occasionally abrasive manner was a scrupulous and somewhat shy personality and great kindness and generosity with his time and thought.

John La Nauze leaves us with some of the most elegant and innovatory writings of the great post-war wave in Australian historiography. His Political Economy in Australia (1949) essayed in its studies of Jevons, Hearne and David Syme a kind of intellectual history before thought unlikely for Australian subjects and encased, in R. M. Crawford's words, in 'austere and searching scholarship gracefully managed'. Among subsequent books three stand out. Alfred Deakin (1965) established a standard of excellence in Australian political biography not subsequently matched. The Making of the Australian Constitution (1972) is the fruit of La Nauze's scholarship in its high maturity, and is a book destined to be returned to often as the Commonwealth reaches its centenary. Walter Murdoch: a Biographical Memoir (1977) is a sunny and relaxed study of a loved teacher and essayist. La Nauze recalls in the preface how Paul Hasluck said, when Murdoch died: 'He would have found us a little foolish if we shied away from laughter and affection. We will not honour him by being over-solemn'. Despite his stern scholarship, the pixie in John La Nauze would, I think, want us to feel the same way about him.

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Citation details

Allan Martin, 'La Nauze, Andrew John (1911–1990)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 3 December 2020.

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