- Also known as
Prof Robert Bertram Serjeant
primary name: Serjeant, Robert Bertram
other name: Sargent, R B
other name: Serjeant, Bob
- individual; academic/intellectual; British; Male
- Life dates
- 23 March 1915-29 April 1993
- Arabist. Born in Edinburgh, where he spent his childhood and attended the university. After his MA in 1935 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, to work on his PhD research on Islamic textiles under Professor C.A. Storey, successfully completing the degree in 1939. The same year also saw him for the first time in the Arabian Peninsula working on Arabic dialects in the Aden area. In 1940 he was commissioned into the Aden Government Guards, where he tasted life in the remoter regions of the Aden Protectorate, often with tribal guards as his sole companions. In 1942 he began work with the BBC Arabic Service as editor of the "Arabic Listener". After the war he assumed a lectureship in Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (1945-47) but later returned to South Arabia with a Colonial Research Fellowship to work in Hadramawt (1947). The following year he returned to SOAS to a readership (1948-55). He was then appointed to a new chair of Modern Arabic there (1955-64). In 1964 he resigned his chair in London and returned to Cambridge as Lecturer in Islamic History (1964-66), then Reader (1966-70). He also took on the task of director of the Middle East Centre, then in Pembroke College. Professor A.J. Arberry died in late 1969, leaving Serjeant as the obvious choice as the Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic. He continued in this post until December 1981 when he decided to retire to Denhead, near St. Andrews, in his native Scotland. He was awarded an Honorary DLitt by the University of Edinburgh (1985) and elected a FBA (1986); he served as joint founder and co-Editor "Arabian Studies" and "New Arabian Studies"; married September 1942 Marion K. Robertson (one son, one daughter), died Denhead, St Andrews 29 April 1993. His extensive collection of books and unpublished papers were donated by his wife, Marion Serjeant, to the University of Edinburgh Library.
He was an outstanding Arabist and a prolific writer on many aspects of Arabic culture, Arab society and history, especially those of Yemen and Southern Arabia. He was particularly well-known for his meticulous combination of literary sources with first-hand knowledge of physical geography. His published works include: "South Arabian Poetry: I. Prose and Poetry from the Hadramawt", 1951; "The Portuguese off the South Arabian Coast: Hadrami Chronicles, with Yemeni and European accounts of Dutch pirates off Mocha in the seventeenth century", 1963; "South Arabian Hunt", Luzac 1976; "Sanaa, an Arabian Islamic City" (jointly edited with Ronald Lewcock); "Arabic Literature to the end of the Umayyad Period" (with A.F.L. Beeston, T.M. Johnstone & G.R. Smith), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. In addition he jointly conceived the idea of a "Cambridge History of Arabic Literature" (with Arberry), and co-edited three volumes. He created the journal "Arabian Studies" (with Robin Bidwell). His latest work was a translation of the "Bukhalâ'" of al-Jâhiz.
He sold several important South Arabian antiquities to The British Museum on behalf of Brian Doe (q.v.), these objects being incorrectly recorded as from "R B Sargent".
- 'Yemen Update' 33 (1993), pp. 6-11.