John H. Plumb

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Sir John (Jack) Harold Plumb, FBA (20 August 1911 – 21 October 2001) was a British historian, known for his books on British 18th century history. He wrote over thirty books.

Biography[edit]

Plumb was born in Leicester on 20 August 1911. He was educated at Alderman Newton's Grammar School, University College, Leicester and then Christ's College, Cambridge. His 1936 doctorate on the social structure of the House of Commons of England under William III was supervised by G. M. Trevelyan; this was the unique occasion when Trevelyan accepted a student. In 1939 he was elected to the Ehrman Fellowship, which was a research fellowship at King's College, Cambridge.

During World War II he worked in the codebreaking department of the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park, Hut 8 & Hut 4; later Block B. He headed a section working on a German Naval hand cipher, Reservehandverfahren.

In 1946 he became a Fellow and Tutor of Christ's College and University Lecturer in History. In 1957 he was awarded a Doctor of Letters for his work on eighteenth-century history, and in 1962 he was appointed Reader in Modern History at Cambridge University. He was visiting professor at Columbia University in 1960. He was the European Advisory Editor for Horizon, and the advistory editor for history for Penguin Books. He was Master of Christ's College from 1978 to 1982. He became Professor of Modern English History in the University in 1966. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1968 and knighted in 1982.

In the 1960s he branched out as an editor, notably of The History of Human Society series. Contributors to his books included other well known historians like Morris Bishop, Jacob Bronowski and Maria Bellonci. Later Plumb worked on a television series about the British Royal family and the royal collections (Royal Heritage BBC 1977).

Influence[edit]

He is seen as mentor to a school of historians, having in common a wish to write accessible, broad-based work for the public: a generation of scholars that includes Roy Porter, Simon Schama, Linda Colley, David Cannadine and others who came to prominence in the 1990s. He was champion of a 'social history' in a wide sense; he backed this up with a connoisseur's knowledge of some fields of the fine arts, such as Flemish painting and porcelain. This approach rubbed off on those he influenced, while he clashed unrepentantly with other historians (notably Cambridge colleague Geoffrey Elton) with a perspective from constitutional history whose emphasis was on more traditional scholarship.

Friends from his early life, C. P. Snow and William Cooper, portrayed him in novels; he also is known to be the model for a character in an Angus Wilson short story The Wrong Set.

Works[edit]

  • England in the Eighteenth Century (1950), Pelican Books, London, ISBN 0-14-020231-5
  • Chatham (1953)
  • Studies In Social History (1955)
  • The First Four Georges (1956)
  • Sir Robert Walpole (1956, 1960) in two volumes, sub-titled The Making of a Statesman and The King's Minister
  • The Italian Renaissance (1961, 1987, 2001), American Heritage, New York, ISBN 0-618-12738-0
  • Men And Places (1963)
  • Crisis in the Humanities (Ed., 1964) Penguin, Harmondsworth & Baltimore (responses to Snow's Two Cultures)
  • The Growth of Political Stability in England 1675-1725 (1967)
  • The Death Of The Past (1969)
  • In The Light Of History (1972)
  • The Commercialization of Leisure (1974)
  • Royal Heritage: The Treasure of the British Crown (1977)
  • New Light on the Tyrant George III: The Second George Rogers Clark Lecture (1978)
  • The Making of a Historian (1988) essays
  • The American Experience (1989) essays.

References[edit]

  • Cannadine, David (2002), "Sir John Plumb", History Today 52 
  • Cannadine, David (2004), "John Harold Plumb 1911-2001", Proceedings of the British Academy 124: 268–309 
  • Neil McKendrick's obituary in the Guardian: [1]
  • Simon Schama's obituary in the Independent: [2]
Academic offices
Preceded by
Lord Todd
Master of Christ's College, Cambridge
1978 - 1982
Succeeded by
Hans Kornberg