The joys and sorrows of life often come close together. This was certainly the case on Thursday when we launched Politics, Christianity and Society in Malawi: Essays in Honour of John McCracken at Chancellor College in Zomba. It is always a matter of joy when a book has been completed and can be presented to the public. Yet on this occasion the joy was tinged with sadness as it reminded us that John McCracken is no longer with us, having died in late 2017.
John produced three outstanding books and many articles on the history of Malawi and will long have a place of honour in Malawi’s academic life. Perhaps even more remarkable, however is the fecundity of his scholarship. Many others have built their academic work on insights and analysis that they derived from McCracken. This made apparent in the book I have co-edited with Wapulumuka Mulwafu as almost 20 historians of Malawi acknowledge their debts to John – debts that are academic but often very personal too.
Our hope for the book is twofold. It is a tribute volume, attempting to take account of John McCracken’s scholarly contribution now that it has been completed. It is also, however, a forward-looking book – aiming to stimulate further research and writing on historical themes that gained McCracken’s attention. He had a knack for identifying incidents, individuals and issues that open up a broad perspective on Malawi’s history. His work therefore acts as a platform for further advance in historical research and writing.
We are now embarking on launch events at a variety of venues throughout Malawi. But it was appropriate that the first one should be in the Senior Common Room at Chancellor College where McCracken taught as Professor of History from 1980 to 1983. He often recalled these days as the happiest and most fulfilling of his life. It was poignant to remember him there, pay tribute to his life’s work and find our bearings for the future.