An inter­view with

Nick Allen

Pos­i­tion & Affil­i­ation: Emer­it­us Fel­low of Insti­tute of Social and Cul­tur­al Anthro­po­logy (ISCA) and Wolf­son Col­lege, Uni­ver­sity of Oxford
Date: Feb­ru­ary 19, 2018, Oxford
Inter­viewed by: Anna Sehnalova & Rachael Griffiths

© VOX (Voices from Oxford)

Cite this archive

Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. (2021, Decem­ber 2). An inter­view with Nick Allen. Retrieved 15 June 2024, from
“An inter­view with Nick Allen.” Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies, 2 Dec. 2021,
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. 2021. An inter­view with Nick Allen. [online], Avail­able at: [Accessed 15 June 2024]
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. “An inter­view with Nick Allen.” 2021, Decem­ber 2.

Dis­claim­er: The views and opin­ions expressed in this inter­view are those of the inter­viewee and do not neces­sar­ily rep­res­ent the offi­cial pos­i­tion of the Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies project.


Additional info

The School of Anthro­po­logy and Museum Eth­no­graphy is saddened to have to report the death of Nich­olas (‘Nick’) Justin Allen, formerly Lec­turer and Read­er in the Insti­tute of Social and Cul­tur­al Anthro­po­logy and Emer­it­us Fel­low in the School.

Nick provided an account of his own intel­lec­tu­al career for the journ­al Eth­nos in 2003 (Vol. 68/2, pp. 271–84). In it he recalls his des­cent from Brit­ish army officers and oth­er offi­cials in India and the interest of his fath­er, by pro­fes­sion a civil ser­vant, in Celt­ic numis­mat­ics. Nick traced his interest in research primar­ily to his fath­er, but it was his moth­er who gave him his enthu­si­asm for moun­tains and for climb­ing them, which later influ­enced his decision to do field­work in Nepal. He then goes on to describe his school­ing, partly at Rugby, which led to some rather fit­ful med­ic­al train­ing, partly at Oxford. This left him quite ambi­val­ent about a med­ic­al career, which ulti­mately he was to reject as not for him. He then dis­covered a book in the home of a rel­at­ive on the multi-dis­­­cip­lin­ary Torres Straits Exped­i­tion of 1898, which had included anthro­po­logy as well as more estab­lished dis­cip­lines and which gave his life a new dir­ec­tion. Nick then returned to Oxford to do a post­gradu­ate dip­loma in anthro­po­logy, and he also joined the newly foun­ded Lin­acre Col­lege, where he met his wife Sheila.

Nick’s super­visor for both the dip­loma and the sub­sequent doc­tor­ate, at least ini­tially, was Rod­ney Need­ham, but partly for organ­iz­a­tion­al reas­ons that were largely to do with Needham’s absences abroad, Nick also sought super­vi­sion from Chris­toph von Fürer-Haimen­d­orf at SOAS. While wait­ing to go to the field he vis­ited Par­is, where he met Louis Dumont and the Nepal spe­cial­ist Sandy Mac­don­ald, who also had a con­sid­er­able intel­lec­tu­al influ­ence on him, as well as attend­ing lec­tures by Georges Duméz­il, who had an even great­er impact on his own later research.

After return­ing from the field, get­ting mar­ried, fin­ish­ing his doc­tor­ate and briefly work­ing as a lec­turer in Durham, Nick joined the Oxford staff in 1976, where he dis­tin­guished him­self in both teach­ing and research. Both ended up being very extens­ive: in addi­tion to his tutori­al teach­ing and lec­tur­ing, and occa­sion­al admin­is­trat­ive duties at his new col­lege Wolf­son, where he did a stint as vice-ger­­ent, he had large num­bers of doc­tor­al stu­dents, while his pub­lish­ing activ­it­ies pro­ceeded apace as well. Broadly speak­ing these lat­ter activ­it­ies revolved around three themes in par­tic­u­lar: kin­ship, Indo-European stud­ies, and the work of the early French anthro­po­lo­gist Mar­cel Mauss.

Retire­ment in 2001, slightly ahead of time, nat­ur­ally ended Nick’s offi­cial role as, by now, a read­er in social anthro­po­logy, but he con­tin­ued his research interests and pub­lish­ing activ­it­ies, and was a fre­quent attender at insti­tute sem­inars and func­tions, becom­ing known even to many later stu­dents who had nev­er known him as a lec­turer or super­visor and had only arrived at the Insti­tute since his retire­ment. Indeed, Nick was an invet­er­ate believ­er in the value of occa­sions like the tra­di­tion­al Fri­day sem­in­ar at the Insti­tute as a short-cut way of keep­ing abreast with what was cur­rently in the air. Unfor­tu­nately hear­ing prob­lems later in life reduced the bene­fit of his attend­ance to him somewhat.

Nick long anti­cip­ated the cir­cum­stances of his own demise because of what had happened to close rel­at­ives of his, and although his ill­ness was not easy to bear, he remained stoic­al until the end. He will be greatly missed by his fam­ily, col­leagues and former stu­dents. The loc­al journ­al, JASO, hopes to pub­lish a fuller obit­u­ary in due course.

Obit­u­ary by Dr Robert Parkin
23 March 2020