Hugh Kearney

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Hugh F. Kearney (born 1924, Liverpool, United Kingdom) is a British historian, and Amundson Professor Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of several articles on early modern economic history, a biography on Thomas Wentworth, and the acclaimed book British Isles: A History of Four Nations which advocated a multi-national, "Britannic" approach, rather than an Anglo-centric approach to their history, historiography and sociology. [1][2] His daughter is The World at One presenter Martha Kearney.


Kearney read History at Peterhouse Cambridge in the 1940's. He met his wife while teaching at University College Dublin where she was an undergraduate. [3] Kearney became, in 1962, one of the first academics (a lecturer of history) at the still-under-construction 'plate glass university', University of Sussex, where he taught in a temporary Nissen hut before the arts faculty buildings were completed.[4][5] Kearney went on to teach courses on contemporary Britain; poetry, science and religion in seventeenth century England; religion and literature in the age of Pascal, and the politics and literature of Yeats and Joyce.[5] Kearney made modern Irish history his major research interest, especially focusing on Ireland's relationship with the United Kingdom, and the British nations.[5]

While at Sussex, Kearney spent three months at the Folger Library in Washington D.C., where he wrote an article Puritanism, Capitalism and the Scientific Revolution (published in Past and Present, 1964).[5] During his time at Sussex, he also took a sabbatical in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[5][6] In 1970 Kearney left Sussex to become Richard Pares Professor of history at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1975 moved on to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was Amundson Professor of British History until 1999. His is now Amundson Professor Emeritus.[1][5]

While at Sussex, Kearney edited Problems and Perspectives in History (a series published by Longmans) in which he contributed the volume Origins of the Scientific Revolution. As result of this, he came to contribute a volume in the new World University Library (Science and Change 1500–1700, Weidenfeld, 1970) that was translated into German, Spanish and Japanese.

In 1969 Kearney contributed three chapters on the 17th century in John Cruikshank's Sussex-based series French Literature and its Background. Kearney further published his work on 17th century universities in Scholars and Gentlemen: Universities and Society in Pre-Industrial Britain (Faber 1970).[5]

A gap of almost 20 years followed before the publication of his later works, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (1989, 2006) and the collection of essays, Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History (2007).


The British Isles: A History of Four Nations[edit]

In 1989 Kearney published The British Isles: A History of Four Nations, to strong reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, History Today, The Spectator and the New York Review of Books.[7] It was printed by the Cambridge University Press as a general reader book with plate sections in hardback and paperback, and the Canto edition of 1995, which had an extended bibliography, was reprinted twice. A second edition was published by Cambridge in 2006, which included a new chapter on the nineties and post-devolution Britain.

Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History[edit]

In 2007 Kearney cast his "Britannic" perspective on Ireland[8] in a collection of essays published by the New York University Press in the USA, and by Cork University Press in Ireland. According to the NYUP, "Kearney contends that Ireland represents a striking example of the power of nationalism" and offers "his revisionist 'four nations' approach to Irish history."[9]

In the media[edit]

In 2006, Kearney reminisced with his daughter about life amongst the development of Sussex University, in a BBC Radio Four series charting the post-war history of higher education.[4]


  • Strafford in Ireland: a Study in Absolutism – 1959, 2nd edition 1989, Cambridge University Press
  • Origins of the Scientific Revolution – 1967, Longmans
  • Science and Change 1500–1700 – World University Library – 1970, Weidenfeld
  • Scholars and Gentlemen: Universities and Society in pre-industrial Britain – 1970, Faber, Cornell University Press
  • The British Isles: A History of Four Nations – 1989, 2nd edition 2006, Cambridge University Press
  • Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History – 2007, New York University Press (forthcoming in UK)


  1. ^ a b British Isles: A History of Four Nations (CUP catalogue). 
  2. ^ British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge University Press, all editions) is only by adopting a 'Britannic' approach that historians can make sense of the particular segment in which they may be primarily interested, whether it be 'England', 'Ireland', 'Scotland', 'Wales', Cornwall or the Isle of Man. (Introduction, page 1)

    My own efforts to deal with problems raised by 'national' histories have lead me to see what I call the 'Britannic melting pot' in terms of a complex of interacting cultures, an approach which carries with it the danger of emphasising the importance of ethnicity at the expense of 'class'. (Introduction, page 5).  line feed character in |title= at position 85 (help)

  3. ^ "British Studies, A Reader". 
  4. ^ a b "Press Release – When Sussex was Martha Kearney's playground". 30 August 2006. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Professor Hugh Kearney – Sussex University Press Release". 
  6. ^ Sale, Jonathan (15 February 2007). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Martha Kearney, broadcaster". The Independent. London. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  7. ^ British Isles: A history of Four Nations, back cover quotes;

    "Kearney's book should be widely used to educate those who think they know about British history when in fact they only know English history." The New York times Review of Books

    "...a perceptive, challenging and, at times, provocative book." History Today

  8. ^ "British Isles: A history of Four Nations, Table of Contents". 
  9. ^ "NYU Press".