Honorary Fellow who transformed the study of intellectual history dies at the age of 99

Professor John G.A. Pocock was a renowned historian of political thought

A ‘giant of the historical profession’ and Honorary Fellow of St John’s College has died three months before his 100th birthday.

Professor John Greville Agard Pocock, Harry C. Black Emeritus Professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, was a historian of political thought and considered to be one of the most influential in his lifetime.

His importance lay in his advocacy of studying past ideas in context and in his contribution to the development of the methodology for historical research. Professor Pocock’s works on political thinking and Atlantic republicanism imposed a new understanding on these issues and led to a refounding of democratic thinking.

Professor John Pocock, Honorary Fellow of St John's College

Professor Pocock was born in London in March 1924 and brought up in New Zealand, where his father was a Professor of Classics at the University of Canterbury.

Earning his BA and MA at Canterbury, Professor Pocock returned to the UK to research at Cambridge, where he was awarded his PhD at Emmanuel College in 1952. From 1955-1958 he was a Fellow of St John’s and he was elected as an Honorary Fellow in 2006.

His many seminal works on intellectual history include The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (1957, second edition 1987), the essay collections Politics, Language and Time (1971; 1989), The Machiavellian Moment (1975), and Virtue, Commerce and History (1985). He edited The Political Works of James Harrington (1977) and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1987), as well as the collaborative study, The Varities of British Political Thought (1995). Running through his work is concern with the status of historiography as an alternative mode of political thought, distinct from political theory. Essays on this theme have been collected in Political Thought and History (2010).

Professor Pocock was a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society, and a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In the last two decades alone, his many honours have included the Jacques Barzum Prize in Cultural History – awarded by the American Society of Philosophy in 2000 – and the New Zealand Order of Merit Officer Degree in 2002.

Professor Pocock died on 13 December 2023.

Published 18/12/2023

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