IN FOCUS History & Culture

Researcher with a passion

Researcher Robert Eric Frykenberg.

Researcher Robert Eric Frykenberg.  


Robert Eric Frykenberg set high standards for research on modern Andhra history.

What Charles Philip Brown is for the rejuvenation of Telugu literature, what J.P.L. Gwynn is for the Telugu language, what Sir Thomas Munro is for land revenue administration and what Sir Arthur Cotton is for the development of Irrigation in Andhra, Frykenberg, the renowned American Professor is for Modern Andhra Historical research. Frykenberg’s tryst with Andhra, its history and culture was by his choice; the enigmatic American Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, chose to pursue his research in Modern Andhra history as a lad of hardly 25 and kept the flame of interest propelling his vibrant academic career for decades.

Frykenberg’s contribution to the field of research in of Modern Andhra History is such that in the 1970s and 1980s, there was no research scholar of Modern History in Andhra Pradesh, who was not familiar with him and the work he was engaged in. He always relished researching on the varied aspects of the history and culture of Andhra. Though separated by the ‘seven seas’, distance was never a problem for him to keep abreast of the developments here making use of Technology as well as media. There was no new book, article, dissertation or thesis published on the history of Andhra that escaped his enthusiastic attention.

Robert Eric Frykenberg was born on June 8, 1930 in Ootacamund, in the then Madras Presidency. His father was a Missionary working in Guntur district. Young Eric spent his boyhood peddling his bicycle in the rural areas of Guntur region amidst the paddy fields, the palmyra and tamarind trees. As a boy, Eric was fascinated at the Telugu language with which his father conversed in great ease. “He spoke Telugu as any other native person in the region spoke,” recalls Frykenberg on his father’s proficiency of Telugu.

Little did Frykenberg realise at that time that his familiarity with Guntur would become the subject for his Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in London University which he joined after post graduation from Minnesota, with Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and his research supervisor was the noted British historian, Percival Spear. Several other prestigious awards like the Carnegie, Ford foundation, Full Bright etc. also came in his way later in life.

Starting his career as an Assistant Professor at the Chicago University in 1961, Frykenberg moved to the Wisconsin University the next year and remained there as a Professor of History since then. He taught Indian History and was instrumental in the introduction of Telugu as a foreign Language at Wisconsin with the help of scholars from Andhra. Frykenberg was also a visiting Professor at several universities and delivered the prestigious Dr. Radhakrishnan Memorial Lectures at Oxford University.

Frykenberg has written a number of books and articles on History. His very first book, Guntur District 1788-1848 – A History of Local Influence and Central authority in South Asia, set such high standards in academic rigor that it became a benchmark to every research scholar in History at Universities in Andhra Pradesh. He was known for studious work at several Archives in India- Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi, which he frequented. At the Archives centres, he used to have good rapport even with the record keepers and other support staff, conversing with them in Telugu with a heavy American accent.

Prof. Frykenberg encouraged young Andhra scholars and gave them valuable insights. As an examiner, he was famously known to critically comment on each and every aspect of the thesis, referred to him. For one thesis, which he sent back for revision, from a University in Andhra Pradesh, Frykenberg wrote an assessment report extending to 34 typed pages!. For such strict evaluation of theses, he came to be known euphemistically as “ Professor Frightenberg”.

Prof. Frykenberg’s contribution to Modern Andhra History was well recognised. During the first World Telugu Conference at Hyderbad in 1975, he was honoured by the government of Andhra Pradesh, the only foreigner to be so feted. The Telugu press at that time eloquently wrote on the works of this tall and handsome “American Andhra Professor.” Now, as he enters his 86th year, Prof. Frykenberg , academically is as active as ever. Telugus remain dear to his heart even now.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:54:11 AM |

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