Obituary: Professor Callum MacDonald

To read Callum MacDonald's work is to be reminded of why we train historians, and of why we study the past.

His scholarship covered a vast geographical field, from the United States and Latin America to Asia and Europe. It also displayed his numerous authorial talents. To read, say, his first book on Czechoslovakia under the Nazis, The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich (1989), is to be in the hands of a gifted diplomatic and military historian as well as a sensitive biographer of human diversity: the notorious and the hapless, the brave, the unsung and the innocent. Yet these wide-ranging interests and skills were united in many ways. All of his work is distinguished by a seemingly effortless marriage of chronology, thematics and analysis, a clarity never purchased at the expense of complexity, and a mastery of sources which engenders confidence in discussions of sometimes controversial issues.

MacDonald was born in Eaglesham near Glasgow in 1947. Having achieved a first class honours degree in History at Edinburgh University, he moved on to New College, Oxford, where a Kennedy Research Fellowship enabled him to work on a pioneering study of American appeasement during the late 1930s, for which he gained a DPhil from Keble College in 1974. A year as Assistant Lecturer in History at Liverpool University in 1971-72 and a Fellowship at the Salzburg Seminar preceded appointment in 1975 as Lecturer in History at the Joint School of Comparative American Studies at Warwick University.

Thereafter, research uncovered and teaching disseminated materials that would form the basis for a string of publications: first in scholarly journals, then in book form.

The United States, Britain and Appeasement, 1936-1939 appeared in 1981. Further extensive archival work, voracious reading and incessant writing led next to Korea: the war before Vietnam (1986), an influential study of diplomacy in a Cold War turned hot; and the briefer yet now-standard Britain and the Korean War (1990).

While continuing to work on the United States and Korea, MacDonald in the late 1980s developed a major project on Czechoslovakia under the Nazis. The Killing of SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich was published in 1989 to widespread critical acclaim, its meticulously researched account and analysis of the May 1942 assassination by Czech parachutists of Hitler's man in Prague earning its author both honours and respect from Czech Brigade veterans of the struggle against the Axis. More recently, the project yielded Prague: under the shadow of the Swastika (1995), an extensively illustrated book, film and exhibition on the city and its people during the occupation, completed with the film-maker Jan Kaplan.

Work on, and frequent visits to, Czechoslovakia were accompanied during the early 1990s by the research and writing of a study of Nazi wartime expansion into the Mediterranean. The Lost Battle: Crete 1941 (1993) added further to our understanding of 20th- century history, as did published articles resulting from earlier extensive research into Argentina's relations with the United States, Britain and Germany between the 1930s and 1950s. His latest work focused on the Sino- Japanese conflicts of the 1930s which preceded and helped prompt the more general Pacific War.

Perhaps most of all, his work bears the unstated but tangible moral integrity and urgency of purpose which informed and helped sustain his scholarship and life. The sensitivity towards tyranny, injustice and bravery which drew him to those Czechs of another generation who gave everything to liberate their country was at one with the generosity of spirit he displayed in quite different circumstances towards so many in his own life. In 1989, surviving Czech Brigade veterans gathered to decorate MacDonald at a ceremony beside the memorial to Heydrich's assassins erected in his adopted home town of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, near which the parachutists had been based before their mission almost 50 years earlier.

Callum MacDonald enjoyed many things, from cooking and entertaining to detective fiction and Roy Orbison. But among his loves, few meant more to him than children and none gave him as much pride and pleasure as his own sparkling family.

Characteristically, in the face of serious illness he displayed the same qualities with which he had previously so enjoyed health. His death from cancer at the age of 49 has robbed the academic world of one of its most gifted and productive scholars.

Callum Alexander MacDonald, historian: born Eaglesham, Renfrewshire 11 November 1947; Lecturer in History, Warwick University 1975-87, Senior Lecturer 1987-91, Reader in Modern History 1991-94, Professor of Modern History 1994-97; FRHS 1989; married 1976 Alicja Szczepura (two daughters); died Leamington Spa, Warwickshire 24 January 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific