Richard Pankhurst (academic)

For the British botanist, see Richard Pankhurst (botanist).

Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst OBE (born 3 December 1927) is a British academic with expertise in the study of Ethiopia.

Early life and education

Pankhurst was born in 1927 in Woodford Green to left communist and former suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst (aged 45) and Italian anarchist Silvio Corio (aged 52). Sylvia later told a reporter for the British tabloid News of the World that her son was a "eugenic" baby, because he was born to two intelligent adults free from hereditary disease and untrammeled by social convention.[1] His maternal grandparents were Emmeline and Richard Pankhurst.

Pankhurst studied at Bancroft's School in Woodford, then at the London School of Economics,[2] from which he received a doctorate in economic history,[3] on which Harold Laski acted as an advisor.[4]

Scholar of Ethiopia

Sylvia Pankhurst had been an active supporter of Ethiopian culture and independence since the Italian invasion in 1935, and Richard grew up knowing many Ethiopian refugees.[4] Sylvia was a friend of Haile Selassie and published Ethiopia, a Cultural History in 1955. In 1956, she and Richard moved to Ethiopia.[2] He began working at the University College of Addis Ababa, and in 1962 was the founding director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.[3] He also edited the Journal of Ethiopian Studies and the Ethiopia Observer.[2]

Pankhurst left the Institute and his professorship at what had become the University of Addis Ababa in 1976 after the death of Haile Selassie and the start of the Ethiopian Civil War. He returned to England, where he became a research fellow with the School of Oriental and African Studies and the London School of Economics, before working as librarian at the Royal Asiatic Society.[4] He returned to Ethiopia in 1986, where he resumed research with the Institute.[3] He has published numerous books and articles on a wide variety of topics related to Ethiopian history.[5]

Pankhurst led the campaign for the return of the Obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia. It was re-erected in Axum in 2008.[2] For his efforts in this, he was given the honorary title "Dejazmach Benkirew" by the Union of Tigraians of North America.[6] He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Diplomatic Service and Overseas section of the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours "for services to Ethiopian studies".[7]


In addition to his numerous books on Ethiopia, Pankhurst has written works on his mother, including Sylvia Pankhurst: Artist and Crusader and Sylvia Pankhurst: Counsel for Ethiopia.[2]

Pankhurst is married and has a daughter, Helen Pankhurst, and a son, Alula Pankhurst, with whom he has collaborated on at least one book.


  1. Michela Wrong, I didn't do it for you: How the world betrayed a small African nation (New York: Harper-Perennial, 2006), p. 120. Wrong later in the same chapter observes that Pankhurst "only became aware of this quirky claim to fame when he had emerged from childhood and was thankfully immune to teasing" (p. 138).
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 The Pankhurst Family,
  3. 1 2 3 Indrias Getachew, Dr. Richard Pankhurst Historian, Race and History
  4. 1 2 3 Close and Personal: Interview with Dr. Richard Pankhurst, Senamirmir
  5. Bairu Tafla, 2002. Richard Pankhurst and his Works. An Introductory Work. Aethiopica 5:10–14.
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57315. p. 23. 12 June 2004. Retrieved 11 March 2009.

External links

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