Norman Hampson

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Norman Hampson (8 April 1922 in Manchester, England – 8 July 2011 in York) was the Professor of History at the University of York from 1974 to 1989. He was a leading authority on the history of the French Revolution - known for challenging the orthodoxies of the dominant "French school" of revolutionary studies - and wrote the definitive work on the social history of the Revolution.


Hampson was born in 1922 and educated at Manchester Grammar School and University College. His service in the Royal Navy from 1941 to 1945 included two years as liaison officer with the Free French Navy. Late in life, he wrote a memoir of his wartime experiences with the characteristically modest title Not Really What You'd Call a War, which described the dilemmas of a poetic and essentially pacifist undergraduate who nonetheless felt it was his moral duty to serve. He wrote occasional poems at this time, some of which featured in a number of anthologies of Second World War poetry.

After the war he studied history at University College, Oxford under J.M.Thompson and completed a doctorate at the Sorbonne University. From 1948 until 1967 he was on the staff of Manchester University. When his head of department urged him to drop the French Revolution and take up teaching of the Renaissance, he decided to leave and moved to Newcastle. In 1974 he was then persuaded by Gerald Aylmer to take up a position in York, where he became head of department in 1978.

He was elected as a fellow of the British Academy in 1980. He was also made the first president of the Society for the Study of French History in 1987. He officially retired in 1989 but continued to teach at the university into his 70s.[1]

Throughout his career Hampson's chief historical focus was upon the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In the case of the latter, he was one of a number of British historians (such as Alfred Cobban and Richard Cobb) who challenged the orthodoxies of previous scholarship regarding the revolution.

In addition to his university teaching and books, Hampson also wrote book reviews and articles for publications such as the London Review of Books[2] and The New York Review of Books.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1948 Hampson married Jacqueline Gardin, the sister of one of his shipmates from his period with the Free French Navy. They were married until her death in 2007.[4] They had two children together, Francoise and Michele.[5]


  • La marine de l’an II : mobilisation de la flotte de l’Ocean, 1793-1794, Paris : Librairie Narcel Rivière, 1959
  • A Social History of the French Revolution, London: Routledge and Keegan, 1963
  • The Enlightenment, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968
  • The first European revolution, 1776-1815, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969
  • The life and opinions of Maximilien Robespierre, London: Duckworth, 1974
  • The French Revolution: A Concise History, London: Scribner, 1975
  • Danton, London: Duckworth, 1978
  • Will & circumstance : Montesquieu, Rousseau and the French Revolution, London : Duckworth, 1983
  • Prelude to terror : the Constituent Assembly and the failure of consensus, 1789-1791, Oxford ; New York, N.Y. : B. Blackwell, 1988
  • Saint-Just, Oxford, UK ; Cambridge, Mass., USA : Blackwell, 1991
  • The perfidy of Albion : French perceptions of England during the French Revolution, Houndmills : Macmillan Press, 1998
  • Not Really What You'd Call a War, Whittles Publishing, 2001


  1. ^ Doyle, William. "Norman Hampson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Norman Hampson". The London Review of Books. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  3. ^ Hampson, Norman. "The Two French Revolutions". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Memories of Norman Hampson". French History. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  5. ^ "Norman Hampson". York Press. Retrieved 26 July 2014.