Dear, this chair's not big enough for both of us

July 10, 2008

In the end it will be the Queen's decision, aided by the Prime Minister and several of the most eminent historians in the land.

Perhaps this royal seal of approval will ensure that when the next regius professor of modern history is named by the University of Cambridge the candidates who are overlooked will accept their rival's appointment with good grace.

For two of them, however, it may prove difficult to forget about what might have been.

Times Higher Education understands that a husband and wife, both high-flying historians, are among those in the running for the prestigious post. Although no shortlist has been published, it is rumoured that David Cannadine and Linda Colley are being considered by the nine-strong selection panel.

Both have strong links to Cambridge and are fellows of the university, and both have spent time at universities in the US in the course of glittering careers - Professor Colley remains a professor of history at Princeton University.

An academic who knows the couple said that Professor Colley was a "terrific historian who has made a truly original and decisive contribution to understanding modern British history" and described Professor Cannadine as "a superb communicator". Of the prospect of one or other replacing Quentin Skinner, the outgoing regius professor of modern history, he added: "Both would be splendid."

Regius professorships exist at a handful of the UK's oldest universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, St Andrews and Edinburgh.

Professor Skinner's replacement will be selected by a committee of nine academics, including the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, the chairman of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, three Cambridge historians and colleagues from Oxford, Harvard, Yale and King's College London.

A decision is expected by the end of July. The candidate will have to be approved by the Prime Minister and then the Queen.

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