Martin Gardiner Bernal, Professor Emeritus of Government and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, died on June 9, 2013 in Cambridge, England.
The son of writer Margaret Gardiner and the radical scientist, J. D. Bernal, Martin Bernal was born in London on March 10, 1937. He studied Mandarin Chinese at Kings College, Cambridge University and continued his studies as a Harkness postgraduate fellow at Berkeley, California and Harvard, Massachussets. After completing his Ph.D., Bernal remained at Kings as a fellow but he led a trans-Atlantic lifestyle maintaining a teaching position at Cornell University as well.
A polyglot and lover of travelling however, he managed to live and study in China, travel and write about Vietnam during the war and work on a family trust in Malawi, southern Africa. He knew with greater or less fluency Mandarin Chinese, French, Chichewa (a Bantu language), Vietnamese, Japanese, Hebrew, Greek, various ancient Egyptian languages, Spanish, and German, among others.
While Martin’s publications were originally on Chinese socialism and Vietnamese history and politics, in the mid-1970s he changed his focus dramatically to the ancient Mediterranean world, adopting an Afrocentric view. The first volume of his seminal and controversial work, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, was published in 1987. Two more volumes followed, as well as a book written in response to his critics. Black Athena has been translated into many languages and the subject of scholarly conferences, a film, and television and radio programs.
A funeral is being held on June 19th in Cambridge, England, to be followed in the autumn by memorial services on each side of the Atlantic.