Michael Eliot Howard 1980-1989

Michael Howard, Regius professor from 1980 to 1987, was a very different kind of historian again. Rather modestly he has referred to himself as an ‘old-fashioned narrative historian’, but this does not do justice to the revolution he wrought in military history, making it academically respectable and not just a hobby for retired soldiers.

His approach has been to see the conduct of war as an emanation of deep cultural and social structures, as much as political history and military technology. This holistic perspective informs his works The Franco-Prussian War (1961), War in European History (1976) amongst others.

Although several of his predecessors in the chair had seen military service, Howard is the only one to have drawn directly on this experience in his academic work. He by no means glorified warfare, but as an ubiquitous facet of human culture, and a momentous one at that, he argues that it is something that demands the historian’s attention.