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
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 valuable service.
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
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