In a few days there will be the fifth anniversary of Professor Robert Aubrey Hinde’s death (October, 26th 1923-December, 23rd 2016). I remember him as he was and my thoughts for him are always vivid in my mind and I can't believe he is no longer with us. Robert will remain in my heart forever. What is so special about this scientist who managed to instill such esteem and above all gratitude in me?
When I was nobody, just a simple professor in charge of the University of Calabria (Italy), on showing my CV I asked him to host me at the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour in Madingley (Cambridge University) of which he was Director, so that I could carry out research on mother-infant interaction behaviors in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) something that I had already begun to do in other countries, in Japan, in America and in Holland. My curriculum was nothing exceptional or at least I thought so, but this was enough to have his consent without problems, conditions or prejudices on his part, all things that only a great man can manifest. And Robert was a great gentleman with me. I have never found such hospitality in other research institutes in the countries listed above and in others too. Robert and his collaborators never made me feel like being a burden, an intruder, in their department in which I remained, in the end, for about ten years, even if in alternate phases, due to my commitments with my university, first in Calabria, then in Chieti and finally in Parma. Ten years is a long time, and many of these years were fortunately funded by scholarships that I received from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the CNR of Rome, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei of Rome, the British Council of Rome and the Royal Society of London. The awarding of the scholarships was facilitated by the fact that I already had a place to do research and thanks also to the fact that in this Department there were already very well-known researchers and other younger ones who would later become famous all over the world in behavioral biology; just to name a few: Richard Wrangham, Tim Clutton-Brock, Robin Dunbar, Michael Simpson, Nicholas Humphrey, Joan Stevenson-Hinde Robert's wife, and many others, including Patrick Bateson, who passed away on August 1st, 2017, and who succeeded Hinde in the direction of the Sub-Department.
Then there was also an Italian, now full-time Professor at the University of Chicago, Dario Maestripieri who stayed at Madingley before moving permanently to America. Without taking anything away from anyone, we must not forget that in this Sub-Department (I have never understood why it should be called Sub!), two fundamental and successful personalities of primatology, namely Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, studied and graduated. In this Department, we can still find their doctoral theses, written strictly with the typewriter because at that time there were no computers, from these theses I drew many ideas, especially for my studies on rhesus macaques.
But it is to Robert Hinde and his collaborator Michael Simpson, with whom I have published some articles, that I must recognize great gratitude for having granted me the opportunity to have officially documented my stay in their department for all the years indicated above. These documents then allowed me to participate in a University Competition Reserved for an associate professor of General Psychology in Italy and whose participants had worked abroad for at least three years, and that I won. For this, I was then appointed to the University of Chieti, but the extraordinary nature of the fact was that in that competition there was only one place available, to be precise in Chieti, and that the competitors in that scientific disciplinary sector were thirty. Without the help of Hinde and Simpson, not only would I not have been able to participate in this competition with much hope, but I would not have won anything and some years later I would not have been able to take the eligibility of Full-time Professor and then be called to the University of Parma where I ended my university career. I will always be grateful to Robert Hinde and Michael Simpson without whom I would have achieved nothing.
Civil and military engagement of Robert Hinde
Why do I wish to emphasize Robert Hinde's civil and military commitment? Because, in my opinion, he reveals his strong personality and then what he would become, that is, a great scientist and master of a long line of good researchers. At 17 years old Hinde, then when he was only a boy, in 1940, enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) (he remained there until 1946, that is, until the end of the war), when the fate of the war was still uncertain and when dying with a plane was easier than lighting a cigarette! Hinde went on many missions, in different parts of the world, in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during the war against Japan which ended on Sept. 2nd, 1945. Hinde left the Air Force with the rank of Captain. During the war, he suffered very serious mourning, the death of his older brother John to whom he was very attached. This tragic death happened on a warship in North Africa sunk by the Germans.
Hinde was influenced by some characters he met during his youth, so before the war, for example, his tutor Ian Hepburn in Oundle (a small village near Peterborough) where he attended the first school and who encouraged him to undertake the studies of chemistry and natural history, then tutor Kenneth Fisher who invited him to devote himself to Biology. Now, I do not want to provide the reader with much more information about Robert's pre-war scientific itinerary, also because it can be found on the internet and listened to in his interviews later released to the media, but I want to make the reader think how the character of a man like him could affect his choices. Firstly, at the age of 17, he could very well have stayed at home and let the war end, but he didn't, he didn't stand by and just watch. This choice has nothing to do just with patriotism or of this kind, but with a much greater and more profound determination that few men manifest. It was shown later when he was a student at the University of Cambridge and when he became director of the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour at Madingley, with his colleagues and students without ever giving the impression of judging the work of others by the height of his position of prestige.
His relations with John Bowlby and his commitments to peace
Let's start with his scientific relationships with the famous childhood psychiatrist John Bowlby. Bowlby, heedless of the criticism he faced, applying Hinde's ethological model for the study of some behavioral pathologies of the child caused by maternal deprivation. This in psychiatry, but also in other scientific fields, was a revolution later becoming fundamental for the study of human psychopathology.
The engagement for peace by Hinde is evidenced by his work carried out in collaboration with Jo Groebel and his interventions at the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs of which before he was chairman and then from 2002 to 2007 President with the aim of promoting scientific research that according to Hinde should always be kept in balance with international geopolitics of the moment: a very topical issue.
Hinde anticipated the scientific and quantitative approach to observations of animal and human behaviors and their development. His ethological approach was also used for the study of religion and morality which other researchers used much later than him. In conclusion, the figure of Robert Hinde was and still is a life model for a scientist, a true scientist and in the full meaning of the term.
Robert Hinde, 1987. Individuals, relationship and culture. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Jo Groebel & Robert Hinde (Edited by). 1989. Aggression and war. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Patrick Bateson, Joan Stevenson-Hinde & Tim Clutton-Brock. 2018. Robert Aubrey Hinde CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire). 26 October 1923-23 December 2016.