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Professor Ronald Hyam

Professor Ronald Hyam is an Emeritus Fellow and a former President of Magdalene College. He is an Emeritus Professor in British Imperial History at the University of Cambridge and Archivist Emeritus of the College.

Professor Hyam was born on 16 May 1936, at Isleworth, Middlesex. He was educated at Isleworth Grammar School after which he did his National Service with the RAF (1954-1956, Instructor Training course). He was an undergraduate at St John's College, Cambridge from 1956 to 1960, where he received First Class honours in both parts of the Historical Tripos. His entire career since 1960 has been spent at Magdalene College Cambridge.

For most of his working life, he has been essentially an archival historian, exploiting especially the resources of The National Archives at Kew in order better to understand government policy towards the British Empire. His research took him to South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, India and Sri Lanka.

As a Fellow of the College, apart from teaching duties, his interests have focused on the College and the Old Libraries, the Archives, and the College Magazine (of which he was editor 1963-64, 1986-1997, and 2008-09). He is also an amateur calligrapher (exhibited, Ely Cathedral, 2016).

Research interests


  • The history of Magdalene College;
  • Recent social history.



  • Government policy and Britain in world history;
  • Southern Africa;
  • History of race and sexuality in an imperial context.


Cambridge University:

1959  BA: First Class in parts I and II of the Historical Tripos

1963  MA, PhD (dissertation on 'The African policy of the Liberal Government, 1905-1909')

1993  LittD (higher degree of Doctor of Letters, awarded for published work on imperial history, assessed by the leading experts in the field).

Career/Research Highlights

1987-2005  Research editor and member of the Management Committee, British Documents on the End of Empire (a major collaborative project, funded or supported by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, the Cambridge Smuts Memorial Fund, etc., and The National Archives); edited six books, published 1992-2000 (London, The Stationery Office, 3,600 pages in total).

1990-1992  World-wide  recognition for Empire and  Sexuality: the British experience (1990, 1991, 1992): reviewed in Wasafiri: international contemporary writing, newspapers and journals in Copenhagen, New Delhi,  Tokyo,  as  well  as  in  Anglo-American, Commonwealth, and  European  journals;  Japanese  translation  (published  by Kashiwashobo, 1998).

1995  Historical consultant for BBC-TV six-part series, 'Ruling Passions; sex, race and  empire', based on Empire and sexuality.

2000  Smuts Distinguished Lecturer, University of Cambridge.

Selected Publications

Understanding the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 552 pp.

Britain's declining empire: the road to decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 464 pp.The Lion and the Springbok: Britain and South Africa since the Boer War (with Peter Henshaw; Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Britain's Imperial Century, 1815-1914: a study of empire and expansion, 3rd edn (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 377 pp.

Empire and sexuality: the British experience (Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, 1990, 1991, 1992).

Reappraisals in British Imperial History (with Ged Martin; London and New York, the Macmillan Press, 1975).

The failure of South African expansion, 1908-1948 (London, the Macmillan Press, 1972).

Elgin and Churchill at the Colonial Office, 1905-1908: the watershed of the Empire­ Commonwealth (London and New York, Macmillan, 1968).

A history of Magdalene College Cambridge, 1428-1988 (co-author and general editor, Magdalene College Publications, 1994).

A  history of Isleworth Grammar School  (Isleworth GS, 1969).

Research articles in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Oxford History of the British Empire, vol 4; Historical Journal; Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, etc.; papers and pamphlets for Magdalene College (Magdalene Described, 2011), etc.