John A. Larkin

Jack Larkin

By Anne Neville News Staff Reporter

July 29, 1936 – July 29, 2021

The community-centered research of University at Buffalo history professor John Alan Larkin was so significant in the Philippines that 45 years after he published his 1972 book on the people of Pampanga, central Luzon, he was named an outstanding honorary resident of the province.

Mr. Larkin, of Orchard Park, died on his 85th birthday at the Hospice Buffalo campus in Cheektowaga after a long illness.

Born in Sharon, Conn., the only child of Yvette Jutras and E. Alan Larkin, he graduated from Millbrook School in Amenia, N.Y., in 1954 and earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1958. After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, including a posting in Germany, he earned a master’s degree from Yale in 1961. In 1963, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend a year researching culture and history in Pampanga.

After earning a doctorate from New York University in 1966, Mr. Larkin was hired by the University at Buffalo History Department, where he taught and researched until his retirement in 2005.

His groundbreaking dissertation, which covered the period from 1561 to 1901, was published in 1972, titled: “The Pampangans: Colonial Society in a Philippine Province.”

In his dissertation, Mr. Larkin observed that historians had “concentrated their attention on the highest levels of national government and politics, on foreign relations and commerce, on the biographies of prominent figures, on the colonial administrations, and on the broadest aspects of the Philippine Revolution,” which “tends to distort the history of the Philippines as a whole,” because the country remained overwhelmingly rural.

Because of his book, Mr. Larkin was recognized as the first American scholar to challenge the prevailing Western-centric approach to the history of the Philippines.

With his friend and mentor Harry Benda of Yale, Mr. Larkin co-authored “The World of Southeast Asia,” published in 1967. Mr. Larkin also wrote “Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society,” published in 1993. His 1982 article for the American Historical Review, titled “Philippine History Reconsidered: A Socioeconomic Perspective,” was widely read and discussed.

In 1973, while he was an associate professor of history at UB, teaching Southeast Asian history and Far Eastern affairs, Mr. Larkin criticized the Vietnam war.

“The American role in Vietnam is completely unjustified,” Mr. Larkin told a Courier-Express reporter. “There is nothing to be gained there, there is nothing to be done there to better America’s condition on the world scene.”

In March 1989, his undergraduate class, “Vietnam and the Vietnam War” heard from three Vietnamese scholars who were on a tour sponsored by the Social Science Research Council of New York, the first exchange of its kind since the end of the war in 1975.

The scholars were met by protests at several of the six universities they visited. In Buffalo, about 70 members and supporters of the local Vietnamese-American community protested, handing out flyers and carrying picket signs and the flag of South Vietnam.

His wife, Janet Larkin, said her husband “considered it important that the war be taught not solely from the American perspective but from the lens of the Vietnamese people.”

During his academic career, Mr. Larkin also worked as a Fulbright Teaching Fellow from the University of Malaya, Malaysia.

After his retirement, Mr. Larkin led a quiet life, reading, doing puzzles and watching PBS, his wife said.

But he also continued to be honored for his work. In 2012, Mr. Larkin received the Juan D. Nepomuceno Cultural Award for outstanding contribution to Kapampangan Research and Scholarship.

At his death, the National Historical Committee of the Republic of the Philippines said in a statement that Mr. Larkin “was also among the scholars in the past century who helped developed Philippine history from the lens and voice of a Filipino.”

The governor of Pampanga, Dennis “Delta” Garcia Pineda, posted on Facebook that Mr. Larkin was “well versed in the life, culture, economy and history of the Kapampangan people, as well as their contribution to shaping our country.

“In the name of my beloved Kapampangan, thank you very much, Dr. Larkin,” the governor wrote.

An academic library at Holy Angel University in the Philippines was named The John A. Larkin Library in his honor.

Besides Janet Larkin, his wife of almost 30 years, Mr. Larkin is survived by a son, Sean; two daughters, Sarah Larkin-Rosenstock and Emma Larkin-Mosley; and five grandchildren.

No services will be held.