M. S. Anderson

Writer of history textbooks

Thursday 23 March 2006 01:00

Matthew Smith Anderson, historian: born Perth 23 May 1922; Assistant Lecturer, London School of Economics, 1949-53, Lecturer 1953-61, Reader 1951-72, Professor of International History 1972-85; married 1954 Olive Gee (two daughters); died London 8 February 2006.

M. S. Anderson, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, 1972-85, was one of the most successful and influential historical textbook writers of his generation.

Thanks to his reading skill in Russian and several other languages, his treatment of Europe covered East as well as West, whereas previous books had often had (as he once mildly remarked) "a strong French emphasis". His own zest for facts was reflected in telling nuggets of out-of-the-way information (for example, that "coins bearing the head of Charles I were handed down from father to son in the Shetland Islands for use as a remedy against skin diseases, until at least the later 1830s"), although such nuggets were always accompanied by firm and even-handed central judgements.

Matthew Anderson was an authentic Scot. Born in Perth and educated at Perth Academy and Edinburgh University, after Second World War service in the RAF between 1942 and 1945 (as navigator, bomber crew) he returned to Edinburgh, completed his degree, began his doctoral thesis, on "British Diplomatic Relations with the Mediterranean, 1763-1778", and became an Assistant.

His departure in 1949 to an Assistant Lectureship at the London School of Economics thus marked a real uprooting, although he never ceased to feel a great debt to his Edinburgh teachers, above all Richard Pares. On Pares's advice, Anderson began learning Russian, and, after completing his thesis in 1952, embarked on his first book, Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1558-1815 (1958). Another of his Edinburgh teachers, Denys Hay, invited him to undertake the 18th-century volume in Longman's History of Europe, and thus led him to discover his métier.

Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713-1783 (1961) became a recognised classic, translated into French, Spanish and Italian, with new editions in 1976, 1987 and 2000, each embodying substantial alterations and additions. A briefer volume for Oxford University Press, Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1713-1789 (1966), also proved highly successful, especially in its North American and Spanish editions. By the time of his death, these two volumes together had sold not far short of 150,000 copies. Anderson had indeed "rescued the 18th century from long-undeserved neglect".

In 1972 appeared The Ascendancy of Europe: aspects of European history, 1815-1914. Two other less general books also secured wide readerships: The Eastern Question, 1774-1923 (1966) and Peter the Great (1978). Altogether he published 11 books with the needs of students in mind, and in every case his publishers (most often Longman, now Pearson Education) found themselves dealing with an academic who not only wrote superbly saleable copy, but even delivered it ahead of the date laid down in his contract.

He also published some 20 learned articles, and contributed two chapters to the New Cambridge Modern History and many more to multi-authored volumes, as well as writing in later years personal diaries and memoirs not for publication.

Important though writing always was to him, between 1972 and his retirement in 1985 his growing responsibilities at the London School of Economics took priority. Not only was he much concerned in building up the International History Department (of which he was Convenor in 1972-75), but from 1973 until 1981 he was heavily involved in the work of the school's Publications Committee, while in 1981-85 he chaired the Graduate School Committee, arguably the school's most important committee.

Anderson was never happier than when walking with his daughters in Scotland. Golf was a pleasure from boyhood. In middle age, he took up photography and collecting books concerned with Russia, while in retirement he became an accomplished bread-maker and gardener. His musical memory was as accurate, extensive and rewarding as his memory for historical facts.

Daniel Waley

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