Former Fellow Martin Bernal dies

Martin Bernal

Martin Bernal (1937-2013)

Professor Martin Bernal, the scholar of Chinese history and author of The Black Athena, died on 9 June. He was 76.

Professor Bernal read Oriental Studies and Chinese at King's, and graduated in 1961. He continued his studies at Cambridge, completed his PhD in 1966, and was elected a Fellow of King's in 1965.

In 1972 he moved to Cornell University (New York) and taught Government Studies. He continued his research on modern Chinese history but also evolved other interests. In particular he became interested in the origins of Greek civilisation, which resulted in the controversial three-volume work Black Athena (1987, 1991, 2006).

Bernal's contention in this work was that from the nineteenth century an 'Aryan model' emerged to explain the origins of Greek culture. This model attributed Greek culture to 'a mixture of the soft but civilized natives of the Aegean basin and the dynamic Northerners who had conquered them.'

It discredited the previous model - the 'Ancient model' - which proposed that Greek culture was more influenced by the Egyptians and Phoenicians. Bernal suggested that a revised version of this Ancient model was most accurate, and that since Ancient Egypt can be seen as African, then Greek civilisation was indebted to African culture.

Bernal became a full professor at Cornell in 1988 and remained there until his retirement in 2001. His other books included Chinese Socialism to 1907 (1976) and Cadmean Letters: The Transmission of the Alphabet to the Aegean and Further West Before 1400 BC (1990).

There will be a private funeral this week, with a public memorial event in the autumn. The date and details of the memorial will be announced nearer the time

17 June 2013