Lisa Jardine: Much Done, More To Do

Lisa Jardine isn’t one to beat around the bush. As soon as she sits down on the couch in her Bloomsbury apartment, she openly states, "I had breast cancer and was out for most of last year." She doesn’t ask for sympathy or gradually ease into the topic; she’s upfront and honest from the start.

But Jardine’s straightforwardness doesn’t mean she’s easy to read. While her cancer treatment gave her time to reflect on her priorities, it’s hard to see any major changes in her work life – she continued teaching and researching, thanks to support from Queen Mary, where she serves as Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies and Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters. What did change was her ability to say "no" to unwanted obligations.

Jardine’s accomplishments go far beyond her official titles. She speaks multiple languages, including French, Italian, Dutch, Modern and Ancient Greek, Latin, and some Hebrew. She’s received the Royal Society medal for making science accessible to the public, and sits on the governing body of the Royal Institution. But even with four times the credits of most academics, Jardine’s "disappointment" is palpable. She doesn’t feel she’s done enough and wants to produce a "research book" that has the same impact as Simon Schama’s Embarrassment of Riches or Jung Chang’s Wild Swans.

Her next book, on Anglo-Dutch relations, is due out in four years and will explore her passions, including ideas of nationhood and the interconnectedness of history. At the same time, she’s collaborating on a book with Tony Grafton, a Princeton historian, about 16th-century marginalia. Her colleagues call her a "force of nature" with boundless intellectual curiosity, but there’s more to her drive than meets the eye. Her father, Jacob Bronowski – a renowned mathematician and scientist – had a profound impact on her, and Jardine admits to idolizing him during her childhood.

Jardine was recognized as a math prodigy at just five years old and received a scholarship to Cheltenham Ladies’ College. She was one of only nine women in a class of 180 studying math at Cambridge. By the end of her second year, she felt burnt out and had come to hate the subject she once loved. Her father’s expectations may have factored into this feeling of failure.

In short, Jardine is a complex figure with a straightforward approach. Her battle with cancer may not have radically changed her work, but it did refocus her priorities and sharpen her ability to say "no." Her next book on Anglo-Dutch relations is eagerly awaited, as are her future accomplishments.

When Lisa Anne Jardine was deciding on her university course, she considered studying philosophy or history. However, Cambridge University did not allow radicalism in these subjects at the time. Instead, she chose English and graduated a year later. Even though Jardine did not have a strong interest in English literature, she pursued her PhD on the scientific methods of Sir Francis Bacon. Being a well-rounded polymath and media personality, Jardine faced challenges in her earlier years of being perceived as unfocused and uncommitted. However, her persistent hard work paid off, and she became an "academic superstar." Jardine’s career reflects both her father’s and husband’s influences, and she has been a cultural commentator for two decades. As an accomplished academic, Jardine is often invited to judge prestigious book prizes, including being chairman of the Booker jury in 2002. While some see Jardine as frivolous, she takes pride in being recognized as a serious player in her field. Jardine is the Centenary professor of renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and has been awarded a CBE in recognition of her commitment to education. Despite her many achievements, Jardine’s greatest accomplishment is raising her three children.


  • jamielane

    Jamie Lane is a 31-year-old blogger and traveler who loves to share his educational experiences with others. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been traveling the world ever since. Jamie is always looking for new and interesting ways to learn, and he loves to share her findings with others.

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