Thursday, 17 October 2013

Ruth Megaw

Ruth and Vincent Megaw after the publication, in 2001 of the second edition of their study Celtic Art from Its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. Between them is the ragstone head wearing a neckring with buffer terminals, from Mšecké Žehrovice, in the Rakovník District of the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. Op. Cit. Plate XVII. Photo:  Multimedia Unit, Flinders University Library
By Vincent Megaw

Ruth Megaw (née Miller) who, on 13 July, died suddenly at the age of 74 in an Adelaide nursing home, managed to re-invent herself several times in a distinguished academic career.

Born in Kilsyth to a Welsh teacher and a Scottish minister of the Kirk, she was Dux of Hutchesons Girls Grammar and went on to obtain a First-Class Honours degree in History at Glasgow. Then in 1961 she sat the British Civil Service examination and was placed second in the whole of the United Kingdom, becoming the youngest Third Secretary in the UK Foreign Office by whom she was sent to the University of Poitiers to perfect her French; she was awarded the Diplôme d'Etudes Françaises, Mention Très Bien, avec Félicitations du Jury. Her first experience of archaeology in the raw was on Charles Thomas' legendary Gwithian excavations, the down-side being that as a result of marriage (to Vincent Megaw) she had to resign from the Foreign Office.

Major move no.1 was when the Megaws, plus infant son, moved to Sydney.  Ruth juggled bringing up baby with the demands of a post-graduate scholarship which lead to successful completion of a PhD on the early days of  US-Australian relations and a succession of appointments in her field.

Move no.2 was when the Megaws returned to the UK and Vincent to the Chair of Archaeology at Leicester.  Towards the end of a decade in the East Midlands when Ruth had established a new American Studies department at what was then the Nene College in Northampton, she also decided to assist Vincent out of something of a writing block and thus began some twenty-five years of collaborative writing.

Move no. 3 was when the Megaws returned to Australia, this time to Flinders University in Adelaide where they developed a joint interest in Indigenous Australian art while continuing to publish widely in the field of early Celtic art.

Following the first publication of their Celtic art from its beginnings to the Book of Kells, where more than half of the text was written by Ruth, and in 1990 a monograph on the famous Base-Yutz find which the the Society of Antiquaries of London produced as volume 46 of its Research Reports, Ruth announced that 'Now we should do something serious'. This was a proposal for a supplement to Paul Jacobsthal's magisterial Early Celtic art which first appeared in 1944; the Delegates of Oxford University Press received the proposal with enthusiasm but the project awaits completion...

Flinders has marked her passing by establishing an annual lecture, the Ruth and Vincent Lecture in Archaeology and Art.

1 comment:

  1. It was in 1995 when I first "went on line". My very first public email went to a British discussion group where I asked for thoughts about my project at the time on the Celtic art of Coriosolite coins (1st cent. BC.). This was in the time of "Celtoskepticism" and the responses I first received were all very hostile and mostly very rude. One person wrote: "There were no bloody Celts". Having no knowledge of internet "flaming", I took such responses very hard -- I came to the realization at that time that although I was born and raised in the U.K. I was now Canadian.

    Then came a light at the end of that tunnel. It was a public response from Vincent Megaw saying that such a project should be taken seriously. I don't know what would have happened if I had not received Vincent's response, but I continued with the work enthusiastically and it was published as _Celtic Improvisations: An Art Historical Analysis of Coriosolite Coins_, British Archaeological Reports (BAR) International Series 1092, Oxford, 2002. It got nothing but good reviews.

    When Vincent informed me of Ruth's passing, it saddened me and I asked him if I might post a tribute to her life on my blog and he consented.

    Other versions have appeared in such places as SALON, the eNewsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and in The Guardian (U.K). It is fitting that Vincent should have the first "guest spot" on my blog as I owe him much. I only wish that the occasion could have been happier.