Tribute to RW Davies
23rd April 2021
On what would have been his 96th birthday, I offer this tribute to RW [Bob] Davies, who died last week. For those of you who have studied Soviet history, you will be aware of the important impact that Bob had on the development of the field, and in particular his pioneering contribution to the economic history of the Stalin period. He was the first Director of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES), University of Birmingham, where he helped to build the various specialist collections of the Baykov Library.
Over the course of an academic career that spanned seven decades, Bob supervised almost 30 PhD students to successful completion, including me. I think I probably hold the record for being the only one for him in the area of Soviet women’s history and I can thus credit my work with having had a small impact also on his own writing and thinking. In addition, he also served as examiner for numerous other PhD and MA theses.
He was author, co-author and editor of around 20 books (including the 7 volumes of the Industrialisation of Soviet Russia series), and author of so many journal articles, book papers and discussion papers that it would be impossible to enumerate them. Many of these works were partly financed by awards from prestigious UK funding bodies and they allowed Bob to employ research assistants and to help fund PhD scholarships. I worked with Bob on a number of these projects, and these helped to fund some of my early trips to Russia and they provided the framework for the publication of some of my own books. He helped to build a co-operative network that facilitated the access of Western scholars to the Soviet archives at a time when few foreigners were given permission to work on these materials and required high-level signing off to do so. After 1991, he was also instrumental in forging working relationships with Russian historians working on the Stalin period.
Bob was founder and General Editor of a book series that ran to over 70 volumes. He also organised a high-level research seminar, SIPS, that ran five times a year and was attended by academics from across the country and attracted speakers from around the world. Sessions were usually followed up with a drink in the university bar and a chance to chat more informally. Bob was active until his retirement in our national academic association (BASEES), and whilst still able to do so attended the Slavic Studies World Congresses (ICCEES).
Beyond all of this, numerous scholars in the field have commented on how Bob provided feedback on their draft work and guidance in their own research activities. You will find his name listed on many Acknowledgments pages. He did all of this both with great seriousness and with great humour. His approach was always supportive and encouraging; he enabled those around him. Even towards the end of his life and in failing health, he continued to show an active interest in what the scholars around him were working on. I will remember Bob fondly as mentor and friend.