From an Obituary by Associate
Professor Don Beer, School of Classics and Ancient
History, University of New England, Armidale NSW
2351, Australia in the University Newsletter,
Volume 39 Number 19, 23 October 1998:
"Sinnappah Arasaratnam was born in Navaly,
Ceylon, on 20 March 1930. After taking his BA with
First Class Honours at the University of Ceylon in
1951, he began the first of two stints lecturing in
history at that university, before undertaking
doctoral research at the University of London in
1954. Arasa, as he asked to be called, graduated
PhD in 1956, returned to the University of Ceylon
as a lecturer, and in 1961 took up a lectureship in
Indian Studies at the University of Malaya. By 1968
he had risen to the rank of Professor of History
In 1972 he was appointed the second professor in
the Department of History at the University of New
England, and he took up the post in the following
year. He retired in March 1995 after 22 years of
Arasa was the ideal academic. He was an
outstanding scholar. He wrote 15 books and 93
articles/chapters, an astonishing corpus of
high-quality work that is the more remarkable for
the fact that most of it was produced while he was
heavily engaged in other activities. His
distinction in this respect was shown by the
prestigious international invitations and other
honours he received regularly during his lifetime.
Of these the most notable was the Smuts Fellowship
in Commonwealth Studies, Cambridge, the highest
honour available to a scholar in his field, which
he held in 1977.
Arasa also took his teaching seriously. He was
not flamboyant, but he had a way of inspiring
students, who seemed to have responded mainly to
his personality - the gentle and dignified manner,
the humility with which he carried his immense
learning, his lack of pretension, his helpfulness
and consideration. Many former students remember
him with deep affection and respect.
Arasa made a major contribution to the running
of the University. As head of the Department of
History he worked very hard to promote consensus
and avoid conflict, while consolidating the massive
changes of the early 1970s. He was respected and
influential in the Faculty of Arts and the
University as a whole, being on such key bodies as
the Academic Advisory Committee.
He served a long term as chair of the
University's Publications Committee. In all these
areas he showed not only subtlety and steeliness
under pressure but also a thorough commitment to
traditional university values.
Arasa effectively began and led the development
of Asian studies at UNE, and he played a
significant part in the burgeoning of South Asian
studies in Australian universities at large. He
rescued the South Asian Studies Association from
potential collapse with such success that, at the
end of his record 12-year term as President, its
journal, South Asia, ranked as one of the top three
scholarly journals on South Asia in the world.
Most important of all, he brought to the study
of South Asia what he called an "indigenous
perspective". Following in the footsteps of C.R.
Boxer and Holden Furber, his great mentors, he
looked at European colonisation of the Indian Ocean
region - but from the perspective of the colonised.
In this important respect he was the first, and he
gathered round him a group of scholars who have
carried on this great project.
Arasa had many friends at UNE and in other
universities. He was interested in important
things, such as history and politics, and, of
course, cricket. He always had something thoughtful
to say, and he was a good listener. His judgments
seemed never to lack balance. His sense of humour
and his sense of propriety were both strong. He was
a practising Christian, attending the Uniting
Church regularly during his time in Armidale,
sitting in his accustomed seat in the back row near
the window. He was a man of rare quality."