Ernest Gellner died on November 5th in Prague, the city where he lived as a child and to which he returned in 1992 to establish the Centre for the Study of Nationalism. In September this year the Centre accepted its first group of doctoral students. Below, they remember their teacherby prospect / December 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
We n ever dared to address Professor Gellner by his first name. “Call me Ernest, please,” he insisted, but we remained too awe-struck. His first response to our papers was always: “Such and such was interesting, but…” Professor Gellner was famous for his “but.”
To us graduate students from all over central and eastern Europe, just starting our academic careers, he was tolerance and inspiration itself. He never seemed bored by our ideas or petty problems, and never missed a chance to make us feel important. At the last conference we attended with him, he told us to speak up because he wanted to hear, loud and clear, our names and the title of his brain-child-The Centre for the Study of Nationalism, Central European University, Prague. He was not a frivolous man and could be a demanding teacher, but he smiled upon us and made us laugh. At receptions, he would always make sure that our glasses were full. And we fidgeted with nervous excitement whenever we bumped into him in the student residence in Prokopova Street. He lived there with us and never complained about our parties or having to queue with us for the telephone. Outside on the streets of Prague we could spot him by the raffish hats he wore. Professor Gellner taught us the excitement of learning and the principles of academic debate. We shall not forget that-or him.