Christopher Bartlett, 1931-2008

October 16, 2008

Christopher Bartlett, a leading authority on British foreign policy and international relations, has died.

He was born on 12 October 1931, was brought up in Dorset and was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Wimborne and what is now the University of Exeter. He launched his career in international history with a PhD at the London School of Economics. His doctoral thesis, "Anglo-Spanish diplomatic relations, 1868-80", led to a lifelong interest in how far foreign policymakers can control events - and how far they are controlled by them.

After working briefly at the University of Edinburgh and the University of the West Indies, Professor Bartlett found his permanent academic home at the University of Dundee in 1962. He was appointed reader in 1968 and professor of international history in 1978.

Highly respected as a teacher, Professor Bartlett was also a prolific and wide-ranging writer, fascinated by the question of Britain's long-term decline but equally expert in US and European diplomatic history. A monograph, Great Britain and Sea Power 1815-53 (1964), was followed by a biography of Lord Castlereagh (1966), an ambitious study entitled The Rise and Fall of the Pax Americana (1974) and a pioneering History of Post-War Britain (1977).

All these are formidable works of synthesis, applying sharp independent judgment to vast quantities of reading. Although seldom controversial, they were widely admired for their range and balance. The same applies to The Global Conflict: The International Rivalry of the Great Powers 1880-1990 (1984), a major introductory study that has proved invaluable for students and scholars and has been translated into languages including Polish and Japanese.

Despite this achievement, the 1980s were a difficult decade, marked by the death of his beloved wife Shirley Briggs in 1988 and the challenges of keeping Dundee's history department afloat. Yet this fallow patch was succeeded by another series of important books, The Special Relationship (1992), Defence and Diplomacy: Britain and the Great Powers 1815-1914 (1993) and Peace, War and the European Powers 1814-1914 (1996).

His Dundee colleague Mark Cornwall - now professor of modern European history at the University of Southampton - remembers Professor Bartlett as "someone with a very good sense of humour, who kept Dundee history going through a period of cuts. He was a private man but a very valuable mentor for other academics - whose mentorship was carried out more publicly in his published work."

Professor Bartlett died of prostate cancer on 8 July and is survived by his sons Roger and Nigel. A prize in his honour will be awarded annually by the history department to the best fourth-year student.

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