An institution of national importance (1986-2000)
Under Professor C.D. Cowan as Director (1976-89), the School lobbied hard for the establishment of a national inquiry into the need for Asian and African studies. Persistence was rewarded when a report by Sir Peter Parker (himself a SOAS alumnus), published in 1986, pointed to the severe losses suffered by Asian and African studies throughout the university system and to the increasing demand from government and business for teaching and expertise relating to those regions. Implementation of some of the Report's recommendations led to new appointments at the School and to the further growth of the Library's collections.
Historian Shula Marks challenged the liberal interpretation of South African history, serving as chair of the Journal of Southern African Studies and leading a very influential seminar series regularly attended by anti-apartheid activists Thabo Mbeke and Albie Sachs. Late in the decade and through the early 1990s, further growth in student numbers was encouraged while protecting special scholarship. The Raisman committee advised the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on the future funding of the School, concluding that the School should receive an exceptional grant in respect of subjects in low demand from students but of national importance; for the School's Library (now designated by HEFCE as a national research collection); and for managing a world-class collection of porcelain in the Percival David Foundation (now housed at the British Museum - David vases pictured below).
From 1985 onwards, through first-hand study of the cuneiform inscriptions on the clay tablets of Nineveh, Andrew George produced the most definitive rendering of the 3,700 year old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Joining SOAS in 1989, noted lawyer Philippe Sands established the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development.
In the 1990s Elizabeth Moore's research at NASA, analysing data collected by Space Shuttle Endeavour, radically changed the understanding of the development of the vast Cambodian temple complex at Angkor Wat. Tony Allen published his seminal work, The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the Global Economy - his concept of 'virtual water' has since become a cornerstone for policy-makers and researchers across the globe.