Obituary: Professor Christopher Duggan
Friday, 13 November 2015
Christopher Duggan (1957-2015) was a world-leading historian of modern Italy. He graduated with First Class Honours in History from Merton College, Oxford, in 1979, and with an Oxford D.Phil. in History in 1985. His supervisor was Denis Mack Smith, the most eminent modern Italian historian of the previous generation, and a strong supporter throughout Christopher’s career. He was appointed a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford in 1983, and a Thesis Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, in 1985. He came to Reading as a lecturer in history in 1987, was promoted Reader in 1994, then Professor of Modern Italian History in 2002.
Christopher joined a department at Reading which from its inception was based on an integrated model of Italian studies, in which the study of language, literature and culture was inseparably linked with that of history; he was the third in a line of distinguished historians to hold the lead history post. His D.Phil. thesis was turned into a substantial monograph published in both Italian and English as La mafia durante il fascismo (1986) and Fascism and the Mafia (1989), generating considerable controversy and acquiring him a world-wide reputation. He co-wrote a History of Sicily with Mack Smith and Moses Finley (1986). This was followed by his most widely read and translated book, A Concise History of Italy (1994), arguably the best general introduction to its subject available anywhere.
Moving, like his mentor Mack Smith, from one large subject to another, and by now firmly established as an international authority in his field, Christopher undertook his most substantial project, a major biography of the post-unification Sicilian statesman and prime minister Francesco Crispi. The result was a book of almost 1000 pages, published in Italy in 2000 and in its English version in 2002, again attracting a great deal of coverage in the Italian national press, and generating considerable academic attention and debate. This was even more the case with The Force of Destiny. A History of Italy since 1796 (2007), another very substantial book which generated a great deal of controversy in Italy immediately after its translation in 2008. With its consistent focus on issues of nation-building, still highly topical in Italy, Christopher’s work had an impact well beyond the academic world, with the Italian public and the Italian political class. His most recent book was a study of the fascist period as seen through private documents: Fascist Voices. An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy (2012), which was recognized with the Wolfson History Prize and the Political History Book of the Year. For his next research project he planned to move further forward in time with a study of the legacies of Fascism in the post-war period.
What makes Christopher’s academic achievements all the more remarkable is that he accomplished them while participating fully, often well beyond the call of duty, in all aspects of departmental and university life. After a long succession of lesser roles, he became Head of the Italian Department, then Head of the School of Languages and European Studies, where he showed himself an effective strategic manager in a rapidly changing institutional framework. A great loss to his former School, Christopher’s recent appointment to a research professorship in the Department of History allowed him to concentrate on his projects and to develop and promote the newly-launched Centre for Modern Italian History. He was an excellent and conscientious teacher, with a much-admired lecturing style, attracting and supervising large numbers of postgraduate students from across the world who will continue his legacy in the study of Italian Fascism and nationalism. He played an active role in his subject nationally, through the Association for the Study of Modern Italy, and as an organizer of workshops and conferences. He served on the RAE panel for European Studies in 1996 and 2001, to Reading’s great benefit, and was an expert adviser for Italian Studies in 2008, as well as a member of the AHRC peer review college.
His research was supported by several awards and fellowships: Leverhulme Research Fellowships (1993-94 and 1998-99), a British Academy Research Readership (2003-05), a share in a major AHRC research grant on ‘The cult of the Duce’ (2006-10), and, from this autumn, a two-year research fellowship at All Souls. His contribution to Italian history and the impact of his research in Italy were recognized by the award of the title Commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity from the President of the Republic.
I had the good fortune to be Christopher’s colleague for ten years at Reading. He was not only an extraordinarily able and hard-working man, but also, in his quiet and reserved way, cultivated, humane, witty, shrewd, and a tactful and responsive friend. He was absolutely at the height of his powers as a historian, and would have had years and years of productive work ahead of him.
He was most fortunate in having the devoted support and intellectual companionship of his wife, Jennifer Mundy, the art historian. They have two children, Amelia and Thomas.
Emeritus Professor of Italian