Politics, Society and Christianity in Malawi and Beyond

A Memorial Conference for John McCracken and Jack Thompson

We were delighted to support a special memorial conference at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for African Studies in honour of John McCracken and Jack Thompson on Thursday 26th April at New College.

Both Jack and John were eminent Scottish historians whose work focused on Malawi and were architects of the SMP, with Jack Thompson SMP Vice Chair.

The conference was a fitting tribute and very well attended, testament to the high esteem they are held. The warmth and depth of feeling for these two men, both personally and professionally, was palpable throughout the room.

The day started with compelling memories of both John and Jack from former colleagues – and friends – including Megan Vaughan (University College London), David Bebbington (University of Stirling), James Cox (University of Edinburgh) and conference organisers Gerhard Anders and Brian Stanley, also University of Edinburgh.

It was particularly moving to hear from visiting Malawian historian Kings Phiri (Mzuzu University) who reflected on his many years of friendship and support from both John and Jack, “some of the most precious individuals”. He recalled the way they both had incredible understanding of people, language and culture, and who so consistently, through every part of their lives, maintained mutually beneficial relations with everyone they knew, from colleagues to friends to neighbours.

The conference also aimed to celebrate the lasting legacy and continuing influence of John’s and Jack’s work and approach and provide a platform for younger generations of scholars. This was explored through presentations on the themes of “The Academy in Society,” “Material and Visual Culture,” “Malawi and Global History,” Christianity and Political Change in Africa” and “Christian Missions and the Making of Modern Malawi” (see agenda here for full list of presentations).

It was heartening to be reminded by both speakers and attendees that whilst important to reflect on the powerful influence John and Jack had and the legacy of work they left behind, it was also important to recognise all that John and Jack received from their time in Malawi and other parts of Africa: what they gained, and how that transformed their scholarship and their lives. As Harri England recalled, John McCracken often said Malawi had given him much more than he had ever been able to give back.

Following a final presentation from Colin Cameron on the “winds of change," a moving and heartfelt musical performance from Moyenda was a fitting end to the day.