Victor Kiernan

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Professor Victor Gordon Kiernan (4 September 1913 – 17 February 2009) was a British Marxist historian and a former member of the Communist Party Historians Group with a particular focus on the history of imperialism.[1]

Kiernan was born in Ashton upon Mersey, Sale to Congregationalist lower-middle class parents. He studied at Manchester Grammar School, then at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1931–38.

The greatest influence on Kiernan was Maurice Dobb. A lecturer in economics, he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1922, and was open with his students about his communist beliefs. [2] Kiernan, later reported: "We had no time then to assimilate Marxist theory more than very roughly; it was only beginning to take root in England, although it had one remarkable expounder at Cambridge in Maurice Dobb." [3] Dobb's house, "St Andrews" in Chesterton Lane, was a frequent meeting place for Cambridge communists that it was known locally as "The Red House". [4]

In 1938, as a junior fellow, he went to India to teach at a Sikh school and at Aitchison College in Lahore. He returned to Trinity as a fellow in 1946. After two years there, he moved to the University of Edinburgh to take up a lectureship in 1948. He was appointed Professor of Modern History at Edinburgh in 1970; a position he held until his retirement in 1977.

Kiernan starred in the University of Edinburgh's Department of History film about the Spanish Civil War.

He joined the Communist Party in 1934 and left in 1959, chiefly in disgust at the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, after which, he said: "I waited in hopes the party might improve. It didn't." At the age of 80, he produced Shakespeare: Poet and Citizen. A second volume, Eight Tragedies of Shakespeare, followed in 1996. He died, aged 95, in Stow, Borders, Scotland.


He was married twice: to the Indian dancer Shanta Gandhi, from 1938 to 1946; and to the Canadian scholar Heather Massey, from 1984 until his death.

Selected works/articles[edit]

  • The Dragon and St. George: Anglo-Chinese relations 1880-1885 (1939)
  • British diplomacy in China, 1880 to 1885 (1939)
  • Poems from Iqbal, Translation (1955)
  • The revolution of 1854 in Spanish history (1966)
  • The lords of human kind. European attitudes towards the outside world in the Imperial Age (1969)
  • Marxism and imperialism: studies (1974)
  • America, the new imperialism: from white settlement to world hegemony (1978)
  • State & society in Europe, 1550-1650 (1980)
  • European empires from conquest to collapse, 1815-1960 (1982)
  • The duel in European history: honour and the reign of aristocracy (1988)
  • History, classes and nation-states (edited and introduced by Harvey J. Kaye (1988)
  • Shakespeare, poet and citizen (1993)
  • Imperialism and its contradictions (edited & introduced by Harvey J. Kaye; 1995)
  • Eight tragedies of Shakespeare: a Marxist study (1996)
  • Colonial empires and armies 1815-1960 (1982, 1998)
  • Horace: poetics and politics (1999)

See also[edit]

  • History & humanism: essays in honour of V.G. Kiernan (edited by Owen Dudley Edwards; 1977)
  • Across time and continents: a tribute to Victor G. Kiernan (edited by Prakash Karat; 2003). ISBN 81-87496-34-7.


  1. ^ Tariq Ali (20 February 2009). "Victor Kiernan: Marxist historian, writer and linguist who challenged the tenets of Imperialism". The Independent. 
  2. ^ Biography of Victor Kiernan
  3. ^ Victor Kiernan, London Review of Books (25th June, 1987)
  4. ^ Biography of Maurice Dobb

External links[edit]