John Roberts (historian)

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J. M. Roberts
Born John Morris Roberts
(1928-04-14)14 April 1928
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Roadwater, Somerset
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Oxford (B.A.; M.A.; Ph.D.)
Occupation Historian, author, professor, TV presenter
Known for World history

John Morris "J. M." Roberts CBE (14 April 1928 – 30 May 2003) was a British historian, with significant published works. From 1979 to 1985 he was vice chancellor of the University of Southampton, and from 1985 to 1994, Warden of Merton College, Oxford. He was also well known as the author and presenter of the BBC TV series The Triumph of the West (1985).


Roberts was born in Bath, the son of a department store worker[1] and educated at Taunton School. He won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, and took a first in Modern History in 1948. After National Service, he was elected a prize fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he completed a doctoral thesis on the Italian republic set up during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Times Literary Supplement described him as "master of the broad brush-stroke". In 1953 he was elected a fellow and tutor in Modern History at Merton College, Oxford, and in the same year went as a Commonwealth Fund fellow to Princeton and Yale, where his interests broadened beyond European history. He returned to America three times as a visiting professor in the 1960s. From 1979 to 1985 he was vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton where he felt obliged to make unpopular cuts (Classics and Theology). In 1985 he wrote and presented the thirteen-part BBC series The Triumph of the West, and was later historical advisor to the series People's Century. From 1985 to 1994 he was Warden of Merton College, Oxford until his retirement, whereupon he returned to his native Somerset.

In 1996, Roberts was appointed CBE for his 'services to education and history' and made a Cavalier of Italy's Order of Merit in 1991.[2] He died in 2003, at Roadwater, Somerset,[3] shortly after completing the fourth revised edition of his The New History of the World.


The John Roberts Memorial Fund was established in his honour at Merton College in 2003, with the aim of increasing the financial support available to undergraduate and graduate students. The college hopes that in the first instance the Memorial Fund will support a history graduate.

When Roberts' The Mythology of the Secret Societies was republished in 2008, the back cover contained the following message: "We are living at a time when conspiracy theories are rife and the notion of secret plans for world domination under the guise of religious cults or secret societies is perhaps considered more seriously than ever."

Personal life

On 10 September 1960, at Milton Abbas, he married (Mariabella) Rosalind Gardiner. The marriage was dissolved in 1964. At Oxford on 29 August 1964 he married Judith Cecilia Mary Armitage, a schoolteacher, and they had one son and two daughters.[4]

Selected works

  • Europe: 1880–1945 (London: Longmans,1967. Second, corrected and revised edition, 1970. Third edition, 2000 ISBN 0582357454)
  • The Mythology of the Secret Societies (1972; reprint edition, Watkins, 2008 ISBN 978-1-905857-44-9)
  • History of the World (New York: Knopf, 1976). ISBN 0-394-49675-2
  • Revolution and Improvement: The Western World, 1775-1847 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976). ISBN 0-297-77048-9
  • The French Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978). ISBN 0-19-289069-7
  • An Illustrated World History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980. 8 Volumes)
  • The Age of Upheaval: The World since 1914 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981). ISBN 0-14-064008-8
  • The Triumph Of The West: The Origin, Rise, and Legacy of Western Civilization (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1985). ISBN 0-563-20070-7
  • A Short History of the World (1993). ISBN 0-1951-1504-X
  • A History of Europe (1996). ISBN 0-7139-9204-2
  • The Age of Diverging Traditions (London: Time-Life, 1998). ISBN 0-7054-3660-8
  • The Age of Revolution (London: Time-Life, 1998). ISBN 0-7054-3690-X
  • Eastern Asia and Classical Greece (London: Time-Life, 1998). ISBN 0-7054-3640-3
  • The Penguin History of the Twentieth Century (1999). ISBN 0-1402-7631-9
  • Twentieth Century: A History Of The World From 1901 To The Present (London: Allen Lane, 1999). ISBN 0-7139-9257-3
  • The New History of the World (6th Edition, 2013 ISBN 0195219279)

See also


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  4. Colin Lucas: Roberts, John Morris (1928–2003), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2007, online edn, Oct 2009, accessed 14 Aug 2013

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by Vice Chancellor University of Southampton
Succeeded by
Sir Gordon Higginson
Preceded by Warden of Merton College, Oxford
Succeeded by
Jessica Rawson