In memoriam: Dr Julian Hurstfield

It was with great sadness that the School of History learned of the death of former colleague and friend Dr Julian Hurstfield, who passed away on the 6th May 2021.

George Conyne, former Lecturer in the School of History, reflects on his friend and former colleague:

My first academic meeting at the University of Kent considered the academic progress of certain first year History students. My colleague Julian Hurstfield, who died on 6 May 2020 and taught American History and American Studies, 1976 to 1996, was in the chair. After many candidates, we considered one whose early work was generally  marked at the “pass” whilst his later work was marked as consistently at the “merit” level. I suggested that the student was on the borderline  but the recent work was all of the higher standard, we ought to award him a “merit” overall.  There was no voiced opposition to this. Three candidates later, a candidate appeared with the exact same set of marks; Julian said, “George, do you want to do your Henry Fonda impersonation again?”

I could not repress a laugh because he referred to Fonda’s role in the 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men, in which he is the only juror who isn’t ready to convict a defendant.  In doing so, he demonstrated that we thought alike and started a friendship of thirty years. It was typical of a scholar who was closer to me in terms of what we studied and who had gone out of his way to be  kind and supportive to the newest arrival in the Board of Studies.

History was a “natural” subject to study for someone whose father was the Astor Professor in the University of London. That interest continued through his undergraduate training at Oxford and the writing of his Ph.D. under the direction of Herbert Nicholas. It was published as America and the French Nation, 1939-1945 (Chapel Hill, 1986) and is still a leading study of the difficulties Franklin Roosevelt had with de Gaulle and the other leading French politicians  and generals.  Whilst this subject always remained important to him, his interests ranged far and wide. He embraced the addition of America Studies to the Kent curriculum. which included two popular courses he designed: America through Autobiography which introduced students to that  complex form and The Adamses and the James, which looked in detail at the contributions to politics, government, diplomacy, scholarship, fiction and thought of those families over the generations.  Not only were the courses blessed with a high quality of content, he taught them with a warmth, an eagerness to encourage and wit that brought out the best in students.    

Dr Aurélie Basha i Novosejt reflects on Julian’s work on Franco-American relations:

Dr Hurstfield was a respected historian of Franco-American relations. In his book America and the French Nation, he went beyond traditional diplomatic history to consider how American public opinion responded to France and the French people during the Second World War. His writing was engaging and, with the use of colourful anecdotes, he brought to life important and enduring questions about Franco-American relations.