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Keith Wilson

Emeritus Professor Keith Wilson

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 9 February 2018, of Emeritus Professor Keith Wilson.

  • Keith joined the University in 1969, three years after taking a First in History at Oxford, from where he also gained his doctorate (in 1973).   At Leeds, he was duly promoted to a Senior Lectureship in International History, a Readership in 1993, and a Promotional Chair in the History of International Politics in 2004.

Keith’s scholarly work was focused on British foreign, imperial and defence policy between the late Victorian era and the First World War, and on the history of the press.   Throughout his career, his work was marked by a scrupulous concern for original primary sources, upon which almost all of his considerable scholarly output was based.   Initially inspired by his first head of department, Professor John Grenville, he eventually published two important works that established his name in the field: The Policy of the Entente: Essays on the Determinants of British Foreign Policy, 1904-1914 (1985) and Empire and Continent: Studies in British Foreign Policy from the 1880s to the First World War (1987).   Both reflected his meticulous attention to detail as well as his formidable command of primary source material.   He also edited several volumes of essays and documents, perhaps the most important of which was The Rasp of War: The Letters of H. A. Gwynne to the Countess Bathurst 1914-1918 (1989).   This last derived from the Glenesk-Bathurst manuscripts, the archive of the Morning Post newspaper, which he secured for, and brought to, the Brotherton Library.

In 1992, Keith organised a departmentally-sponsored conference that produced a collected volume of essays, Decisions for War, 1914 (1995), which made a notable contribution to the analysis of the outbreak of the First World War.   As this volume was widely used in academic circles in the UK and abroad, it further enhanced his international reputation.   His Channel Tunnel Visions 1850-1945: dreams and nightmares (1994) led to interviews by the BBC World Service and the Australian Broadcasting Company.   His books on The International Impact of the Boer War (2001) and Problems and possibilities: exercises in statesmanship 1814-1918 (2003) incorporated the fruits of almost forty years’ teaching in international history.

Always willing to bear his share of administrative duties, Keith served as Admissions Tutor for the School of History, convener of the group that oversaw the running of the Departmental Library, Chairman of the Library Committee, and Year Tutor before retiring from the University in 2008.

Not that retirement saw the end of his scholarly activity.   Directions of Travel: Great Britain and the Great Powers before and after the Great War appeared in 2014;a paper on ‘Grey and the Russian Threat to India 1892-1915’ that he presented to the conference organised by the Foreign Office on 'Sir Edward Grey and the Outbreak of the First World War' was published in 2016;  and he edited the fifth (unfinished) volume of The Life of Robert Marquis of Salisbury, by his daughter, Lady Gwendolyn Cecil, together with Hugh Cecil, in 2017.

His marriage to Sally Wheeler, former Personnel Director at the University, brought him much happiness in his later years.

Keith’s funeral will be held at 3 pm on Friday 9 March 2018 at Lawnswood Crematorium, Otley Road, Adel, Leeds LS16 8AA on which day the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast in his memory.