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N. Gerald (Jerry) Barrier: Sikh Scholar & Historian

by FRANK F. CONLON

 

 

N. Gerald (Jerry) Barrier passed away on Sunday, June 6, 2010, in Columbia, Missouri, U.S.A., after an 8-month long bout with brain cancer.

Our prayers and thoughts are with his family and loved ones. May Waheguru bless his soul.

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Jerry Barrier was a giant in the field of South Asian Studies, especially in history and especially the history of the Sikhs and the Punjab. His many publications helped to define that field, and his command of its bibliography led to broadening our awareness of its many issues.

Jerry further advanced South Asian studies in North America through his active promotion of books and bibliography when he launched South Asia Books - the premier specialist source of books from the subcontinent for many years.

Jerry's presence at academic conference book exhibits was a source of stimulating information - he loved books, he knew books, and his goal was to place the right books in the hands of those who would use them.

Jerry was born into a deeply religious family and was, at one time, considered to be on the path to a ministry. In time he decided that he did not wish to follow that road and turned instead to the study of history. At Duke University, he worked
under that pioneer of four programs (Michigan, Chicago, Duke, Syracuse) in Indian history, the late Robert Crane. Crane suggested students look at the legislative councils of varous Indian provinces constituted in 1892. In point of fact, most of the students moved out, as Crane probably anticipated, from the ground of provincial politics into a far wider range of interests.

Jerry moved through provincial politics and land control legislation in the Punjab into a much broader interest in the Sikh community, its politics, culture and traditions. His Ph.D. dissertation (1966) was "Punjab politics and the disturbances of 1907".

Jerry Barrier was first appointed to the history faculty of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, but then joined the faculty of the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he remained until his retirement. He was known as an enthusiastic, sometimes unconventional, teacher at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Along his scholarly path, he developed a commanding knowledge of specialized bibliography and archival resources. With all the enthusiasm that had informed his more youthful engagement with religious ministry, he threw his efforts into scholarship and bibliography. The rest, as they say, is history. And what a history.

I am not sure how many books Jerry wrote or edited, nor how many articles and essays he published. A later formal obituary may address that quantitative question. However, from the qualitative viewpoint, Jerry Barrier's imagination and energies were
unparalleled. That he could pursue his own research trajectory while also founding and building South Asia Books, provides a hint of his capacity for activity.

Here, in point of fact, I can share that Jerry had an unusually high metabolism. I recall once when he visited me in Minneapolis in the winter of 1968. He was to sleep on a couch in my apartment where, since it was -20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it was about 52 degrees inside, he declined the two blankets and quilt I had borrowed for his use, and slept peacefully under a
single sheet. In short, he was in his very being, a sort of human dynamo, able to strive toward complete perfection in all that he attempted.

The entry of N. Gerald Barrier in most catalogues of major libraries will bring forth come evidence of Jerry's prolific career. His chosen pattern of publication largely focussed upon essays and articles along with ground-breaking foundational publications on bibliography. He also did yeoman service as an active editor of collections of essays from a wide variety of conferences, seminars and panels on many aspects of South Asian history, and most especially on Sikh Studies.

I have assembled a brief list of books Jerry wrote and/or edited at the end of this post, but I do not warrant it to be complete, and I do not yet have access to a complete list of his innumerable essays and articles. Jerry also plowed new furrows by exploring previously much ignored sources such as the various tracts collections in the India Office Library and he identified and brought to light the various publications in British India which had been banned by the colonial authorities. The significant aspect of his work was that while he developed his own research agenda, virtually every thing he did, he could - and did - share with others.

Jerry was recognized by the University of Missouri for his outstanding contributions as Middlebush Chair in the Social Sciences; he was awarded numerous grants and fellowships and was recipient of an Indian award for his promotion of the Indian book trade and knowledge of Indian culture. In December 2008, Jerry was invited to give the keynote address to a conference, "Sikhism in a Global Context" at Riverside, California, where he was presented with a 'Lifetime Achievement Award' in commemoration and appreciation of his significant scholarly contributions in the area of Sikh Studies.

On another front, Jerry's work with books was furthered by his activities in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies's Committee on South Asia Libraries and Documentation and his long-term chairmanship of the American Institute of Indian Studies's Publication Committee. He was among the moving forces of the Punjab Studies Committee which generated conferences and publications in North America.

It may sound like a cliche, but I doubt that we will soon see another friend and scholar like Jerry Barrier - he was truly one of a kind. Once, during one of our periodic conference meals together, I told him that it must have been pre-ordained that he would follow his chosen path. I told him that he struck me as holding within himself the stature, energy and honor of the Sikhs he
loved and studied, but with certain bania tendencies. Sardar or bania, or both - for me, and many others, Jerry was, ultimately, a very good friend. We have now lost that good friend, and will have only to keep his memory in our hearts.

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A sampling of Barrier bibliography:

Aspects of India : Essays in Honor of Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr., edited by Margaret Case and N. Gerald Barrier. New Delhi: Manohar Publications for American Institute of Indian Studies, 1986. ISBN: 818505407X

British Imperial Policy in India and Sri Lanka, 1858-1912: A Reassessment / editors, Robert I. Crane and N. Gerald Barrier.
New Delhi: Heritage Publishers, [1981]

The Census in British India: New Perspectives, edited with an introduction by N. Gerald Barrier.
New Delhi: Manohar, 1981.

Punjab Past & Present: Essays in Honour of Dr. Ganda Singh, edited by Harbans Singh, N. Gerald Barrier. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1976.

The Sikh Diaspora: Migration and The Experience Beyond Punjab, edited by N. Gerald Barrier, Verne A. Dusenbery. Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1989. ISBN: 8170010470

Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, edited by Pashaura Singh, N. Gerald Barrier. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999. ISBN: 8173042365

Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives On a Changing Tradition: Working Papers From The Berkeley Conference on Sikh Studies, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald Barrier. Berkeley : Graduate Theological Union, 1979. ISBN: 0895811006

Sikhism and History [festchrift for Professor W.H. McLeod]
, edited by Pashaura Singh, N. Gerald Barrier. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN: 0195667085

The Transmission of Sikh Heritage in The Diaspora, edited by Pashaura Singh, N. Gerald Barrier. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers & Distributors, 1996. ISBN: 8173041555

Banned: Controversial Literature and Political Control in British India, 1907-1947, N. Gerald Barrier. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press [1974]. ISBN: 0826201598

Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi Tracts on Nineteenth-Century Punjab : An Introduction to The Pamphlet Collections in the British Museum and India Office Library, N. Gerald Barrier. c.1968? Typescript (at LOC) also available at Center for Research Libraries.

India and America: American Publishing on India, 1930-1985, N. Gerald Barrier. New Delhi: Manohar: American Institute of Indian Studies, 1986. ISBN: 8185054096

The Punjab Alienation of Land Bill of 1900, Norman G.Barrier. Durham: Duke University, Program in Comparative Studies
on Southern Asia, 1966.

Punjab History in Printed British Documents: A Bibliographic Guide to Parliamentary Papers and Select Nonserial Publications, 1843-1947, Barrier, N. Gerald (Norman Gerald). Columbia, University of Missouri Press [1969]. ISBN: 082620077X

The Punjab in Nineteenth Century Tracts: An Introduction to The Pamphlet Collections in the British Museum and India Office, N. Gerald Barrier. East Lansing, Michigan: Research Committee on the Punjab, 1969.

The Punjab Press, 1880-1905, N. Gerald Barrier and Paul Wallace. East Lansing, Michigan: Research Committee on the Punjab, 1970.

The Sikhs and Their Literature: A Guide to Tracts, Books and Periodicals, 1849-1919, N. Gerald Barrier, Delhi: Manohar Book Service; Columbia, Missouri. South Asia Books, 1970.

Roots of Communal Politics, edited, with historical introduction by N. Gerald Barrier. [Indian National Congress. Cawnpore Riots Enquiry Committee., Report], New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers (India), 1976.
 

June 7, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Bhupinder Singh Mahal (Dundas, Ontario, Canada), June 07, 2010, 4:50 PM.

I first met Jerry when I was the Sikh Diaspora editor. I was astonished by the great depth of his knowledge of Sikh history. He was a frequent contributor to the debates on Sikh Diaspora and the Gurmat Learning Zone, where he left deep footprints in the minds of members of those groups. We sounded out our thinking on key turning points in Sikh history. And I will be forever indebted to him for his generous review of my book, 'Punjab: a Cataclysmic Showdown, Aftermath and Challenges'. I will borrow Marcel Proust's words to express how I feel about Jerry: "People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad." Though the narrative of his life was cut short, as long as Jerry lives in the recesses of our memory, he will not be forgotten.

2: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), June 07, 2010, 5:44 PM.

My heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of Professor Jerry Barrier. He was indeed a fine scholar on Sikh history, which he covered and defined well. I met him in Los Angeles during one of the Sikh conferences, during the '90s. Jerry was a lively man. Goodbye, Sir.

3: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 07, 2010, 5:57 PM.

In the passing away of Professor N. Gerald Barrier, the Sikh academic world has lost a scholar and I personally have lost a treasured friend. In the late 1980s, in addition to his professorial duties at Columbia, Missouri, Jerry managed 'South Asia Books' and also published 'South Asia in Review', a quarterly that published book reviews and publications on South Asia. He saw a few book reviews that I had published in the now defunct 'World Sikh News'; he asked me to submit book reviews to 'South Asia in Review' and I became a fairly regular contributor to it. One day on the phone he asked if I write anything else - such as essays. So I sent him four. He liked them and offered that if I write an additional 25 odd essays, he would arrange for them to be published in book form. I did. He wrote the Introduction and negotiated with Manohar Books (Delhi). Within months, my first book 'Sikhs & Sikhism: A View With a Bias' was born. And I had not ever met the man. Our meeting happened a few years later in Atlanta where both of us found each other in the same town attending our respective academic meetings. I will remember him always as a loyal and honest friend and an excellent scholar, with a puckish sense of humor. Jerry will be missed.

4: Dildeep Singh Dhillon & Nicola Mooney (Canada), June 07, 2010, 6:02 PM.

Professor Jerry Barrier was a brilliant academic and a kind person. He will be missed immensely. Sikh Studies and History have lost a gem. In all our correspondence with him over the years, we found him to be generous, gracious and encouraging. May his soul rest in peace and his family have the courage and strength to come to terms with this great loss.

5: Kirpal Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.A.), June 07, 2010, 8:04 PM.

Prof. Barrier was a great guy. I had the privilege of meeting him on many occasions. Once I had the chance to invite him on behalf of the Midwest Sikh Association at the Kansas City Gurdwara. His presence and speech after the attack on Golden Temple were appreciated by all the members, particularly when we were all feeling helpless and troubled. He surveyed Sikh history and reassured the sangat to trust in Waheguru, recall the sacrifices of the Gurus and our ancestors. Based on that history, Sikhs and Sikhism will always survive and their future is bright both in India and in the diaspora. My condolences to his family and friends. His contributions to Sikh Studies are exemplary, like the late Prof. Mcleod's.

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