Douglas Johnson

By Evans, Martin | History Today, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Douglas Johnson

Evans, Martin, History Today

WITH THE PASSING AWAY of Douglas Johnson, History Today has lost not just a distinguished historian, but a dear friend who, as a contributor, reviewer and member of the editorial board, was a reassuring presence for successive editors. Instinctively attuned to the magazine's desire to bring the very best historical scholarship to a wide audience, he was always on hand, ready to bounce ideas off in a manner that was warm, witty and academically rigorous. He will be sorely missed.

As a fifteen-year-old pupil at the Royal Grammar School Lancaster in June 1940 Douglas heard the first BBC broadcasts by a then unknown Charles de Gaulle. The general's impassioned call for continued resistance, flying it seemed in the face of all reason, immediately caught his imagination and soon he was proudly wearing the Cross of Lorraine, the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the Gaullist phenomenon. From Lancaster Douglas went up to Worcester College, Oxford in 1942 where he took a history scholarship before attending France's prestigious training ground for academics, the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) in Paris in the late 1940s. At the time the ENS, like the rest of France, was on the front line of the Cold War. Riven with quarrels about revolution, Marxism and the politics of the French Communist Party (PCF), then the largest party in France, it was a hothouse atmosphere within which the young Douglas thrived, acquiring the beginnings of a deep knowledge of the PCF's inner workings. No less importantly it was at this moment that he met his wife and future co-author Madeleine Rebillard, herself a student at the ENS.

Back in Britain Douglas got his first post at Birmingham University in 1949 where he rose to become professor and then chair of the history department. Clues to his intellectual interests can be found in those formative years, in particular the lifelong friendship he forged with Richard Hoggart, the pioneer of cultural studies. The two subsequently wrote a book together on Europe and in this sense Douglas was never a narrow-minded historian. Like Hoggart he always wanted to explore the complex relationship between culture, ideas and history.

Birmingham, therefore, was a stimulating environment and these years saw Douglas produce his major research on the historian Guizot, Guizot: Aspects of French History 1787-1874 (1963), and a study of the Dreyfus Affair. Likewise it was during these years that he really made his mark as a commentator on Gaullism, writing perceptive pieces on de Gaulle's new French Revolution for the likes of The Spectator and New Society. In 1968 Douglas was appointed as Professor of French History at University College London (UCL) where worked until his retirement in 1990, taking in a stint as dean of the arts faculty.

Throughout this time Douglas was a tireless champion of History Today, becoming an editorial board member in the 1980s, a crucial moment in the magazine's history. Having just been let go by Longmans, who wanted to close it down, the magazine needed to reposition itself in the commercial world in order to survive. Douglas understood the challenge perfectly. Never an ivory-tower historian, he always wanted to make history relevant to a lay readership, above all by highlighting the connection between the past and the present.

Consequently he pointed the editors towards interesting new historians; championed the need to open up the magazine's pages to social, cultural and feminist history whilst contributing a number of elegantly written pieces on various aspects of France that were invariably shrewd and perceptive. One, published in July 1983, on the use of anecdotes as historical evidence, is a real gem; though three in particular repay reading. The first from January 1981 examines de Gaulle's role as a maker of the modern world; the second, from May 1989, which formed part of a special issue to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution, analyses the arguments about the Counter-Revolution and the Terror; while the third from July 1986 looks at the career of Fernand Braudel. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Douglas Johnson


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.