The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]
Winston Monk served this College for a bare four years, yet I doubt whether any of us who have known him closely—whether staff or students—will ever quite lose the results of the impact he made on us.
This is a bold claim, and I make it only to a small extent on strictly academic grounds. It is true, of course, that he made himself responsible for energetic teaching at a high level on two of the subjects most important for the modern world, namely the history of the United States and the emergence from tutelage of subject peoples in Africa and South East Asia. His students, I suspect, will remember a little ruefully his high standards of accuracy, his unbounded energy in pursuit of material, and his expectation that those who worked with him should to some extent keep pace with his own efforts. He has also left some fragments of published work which are pointers to what he would have done. There is, for example, a tightly-packed little work, Britain in the Mediterranean, and a series of articles in serious journals. The first was a characteristic sally into a little explored field where many peoples met in con page 6 flict as well as in friendship and where national prejudice obscured accurate thinking. This little book brought to light new facts but inadequately represented the research that had been done and the clear thinking about tangled problems that was in prospect. His published articles bore mainly on the relations between New Zealand and less favoured countries. They strove not only to record new facts, but to arouse in his fellow New Zealanders a sense of their duty towards world problems and suffering humanity. It was this sense of mission which gave fire to his teaching and which stimulated all those with whom he came into contact.
Yet one can read his book and his articles without understanding why his influence will live so long. When it came to print, the very exactness of his standards prevented him from setting forth the full impulse of his thinking. None but experts—or those who worked through the proofs with him—can assess the depth of scholarship in his book, the human sympathy and the infinite care which lay behind each complex phrase. Sentences wherein each word, each delicate nuance, must do justice to every aspect of a complex situation are apt to read stodgily, and to prolong themselves with adjectives and qualifications. Moreover, in Monk's mind it was not merely the demands of factual research that must be met. The range of his sympathy was universal, and it embraced more particularly the views of those whom the world, and even he himself, were inclined to condemn. Seeing so clearly and sympathetically the merits of any argument which could find a human being to defend it, his own writing tended to one extreme or the other. When scientific history, it was austere and tough, an irrepressible humanity lurking in the corner, but severely disciplined; when polemics, it was a slashing and provocative as his talk. He was a passionate believer yet withal humble, always open to argument and ready when cornered to admit to mistakes with a charm that silenced complaint.
The man's personality, in short, bursts through any attempt to discuss him calmly and rationally. He lives in one's mind not because of what he wrote, but because of what he was: tough, courageous with unbounded human sympathy. I doubt that his standards met any particular religious formula, but they were as high and as uncompromising as any that I know. One could disagree violently with his view on any particular issue, and become involved in arguments which exercised to the full one's knowledge and mental agility. Yet one did not question his standards or ideals. He was a passionate seeker after truth, but of a truth which is as complex and elusive as humanity itself.
F. L. Wood