Obituary: Hugh Brogan

  • Date

    Mon 29 Jul 19

Hugh Brogan

Hugh Brogan was one of the world’s leading historians of the United States and a hugely respected member of the University of Essex community.

Emeritus Professor in the Department of History, Hugh wrote the bestselling Longman History of the United States, first published in 1985, and later reprinted as the Penguin History of the United States. He also completed a biography of John F. Kennedy, a book on American presidential families and was editor of a volume of documents on the American civil war.

He was also an acclaimed biographer of the children’s writer Arthur Ransome, author of a book on Rudyard Kipling, and Alexis de Tocqueville.

 Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: “Hugh was a very eminent member of our university community and a highly respected expert on the history of the United States. It was a privilege for us that he chose to make Essex his intellectual home.”

Hugh moved to the University of Essex in 1974 and taught full time for 24 years before retiring in 1998 to become Research Professor. From 1987 to 1990 he served as the Department of History’s Chairman.

He was a champion of the value of universities and the education they offered which he spoke about when he received his honorary degree from Essex in 2007. He said his advice to new students would be inspired by Kant’s suggested motto for The Enlightenment  ‘sapere aude’ -   “Dare to learn; dare to think; dare to understand”.  See his full response online.

Professor Steve Smith gave the oration for Hugh. He said: “He has been a wonderfully humane and enlightening presence, much loved and esteemed by students and colleagues alike.  He is an outstanding lecturer, possibly helped by the fact that in his youth he had a passion for acting and hundreds, if not thousands, of students have discovered the joy of history through his teaching.” See the full oration online.

Professor Smith said that Hugh immensely valued his role as a lecturer. He said: “His Penguin history is dedicated, quote ‘to all my pupils, past, present and to come’. In the preface he writes ‘I have learned a lot from my students, both through discovering what they needed to know and, when they ask me questions I couldn’t answer, where my own ignorance lay’.”

After retiring from full-time teaching, Hugh completed his life’s major work, his “magisterial” biography of Tocqueville, which was “universally lauded as a masterly achievement”.

 Dr Jeremy Krikler, from the Department of History, said: “The Department mourns the passing of one of its truly original and highly-distinguished colleagues. He greatly expanded our reach through being one of the best-selling authors in the University’s history. His books, written with an astonishingly-fluent and elegant prose, have collectively sold hundreds of thousands of copies. 

“Hugh was a welcoming and consistently supportive colleague.  His generous endowment to the Department will continue to support postgraduate research students.  We shall all miss his presence, good humour, warmth and wisdom.”

As an Emeritus Professor, Hugh maintained strong links with the Department of History and the wider University visiting regularly and continuing to work on his research in the Albert Sloman Library. He was working on a new book at the time of his death on Friday 26 July 2019.