Professor Keith Robbins / Yr Athro Keith Robbins

Keith Gilbert Robbins (1940-2019) was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, Lampeter, and also Senior Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales.

Keith was the son of Gilbert Henry John and Edith Mary Robbins. He attended Bristol Grammar School from 1949 to 1958. He was later to write the college’s history, as well as serving on the Board of Governors and as President of the Old Bristolians Society. For university, he studied history at Magdalen and St Antony’s Colleges, Oxford. His DPhil, awarded in 1964, was entitled The abolition of war: a study in the organisation and ideology of the Peace Movement, 1914-1919. Just before he left Oxford, he married Janet Carey Thomson in 1963. He and Janet had three sons and one daughter. 

Robbins’ first academic post was at the University of York, as first assistant lecturer and then lecturer. In 1971, he became professor and head of the history department at the University College of North Wales, (Bangor University).  He was also dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1977 to 1979.  He moved north in 1980, on his appointment as Professor of Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He was head of department for ten years, from 1981 to 1991.  

From 1992 to 2003 Robbins was Principal of St David’s University College and then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales Lampeter. Alongside this, he served as Senior Vice-Chancellor of the then federal University of Wales between 1995 and 2001. Lampeter Society members remember a very approachable and friendly man, although one of great stature and authority.

Alongside his leadership roles, Robbins was an eminent modern historian. He was responsible for over twenty books, as well as numerous journal articles. His first book was Munich 1938, (Cassell, 1968). He aimed to look at the development of the Munich crisis without the hindering concept of appeasement. Fergusson commented that it was an informative, critical and extremely readable book. In The Eclipse of a Great Power: Modern Britain 1870-1975 (Longman, 1983), Robbins’ narrative started with the Gladstone-Disraeli years and ended with the Wilson and Heath governments. One reviewer commented that it was the most witty textbook he had ever read; Robbins even included a selection of his grandfather’s puns. In The First World War (Oxford University Press, 1984), Robbins compressed the huge literature on World War I into a concise and readable volume of under two hundred pages. Somehow, the book managed to be comprehensive and to avoid over-simplification. In Great Britain: Identities, Institutions, and the Idea of Britishness (Longman, 1997), he examined the historical roots of British national identity. Thus, Robbins offered an account of the origins of the types of strains and clashing identities that were to buffet the United Kingdom. 

In retirement Robbins edited History of Oxford University Press. Volume 4, covering the years 1970 to 2004. His work included dealing carefully with some highly sensitive issues, such as the income and global earnings of the press and its charitable status, together with some issues of personnel. Each of these required Robbins to co-operate with the press’s lawyers and accountants. He handled the issues with extraordinary diplomatic skill and a wry sense of humour.  

Robbins was visiting professor at the University of British Columbia in 1983 and at the University of Western Australia in 1995. He was President of the Historical Association from 1988 to 1991, as well as editing its journal History from 1977 to 1986. He was awarded an honorary DLitt by the University of the West of England in 1999 and by the University of Wales in 2005. He became a Fellow of the University of Wales Lampeter in 2006 and of Bangor University in 2010. He was a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales and served on its council from 2010 to 2017. 

 Professor Keith Robbins (2)

Robbins died in September 2019; his funeral was held at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. Jeremy Smith, the Assistant Dean of the Institute of Education and Humanities at UWTSD, described him as ‘a longstanding and eminent Vice-Chancellor of Lampeter, a man of great charm and standing, and a renowned historian of modern British history.’ Professor Bill Gibson commented, ‘My impressions of Keith were of a man of great generosity, enormous skill and scholarship, and of tact and discretion, that would have made him successful in any field he chose.’ 

Sources 

Robbins, Prof. Keith Gilbert, (9 April 1940–12 Sept. 2019), Vice-Chancellor (formerly Principal), University of Wales (formerly St David’s University College), Lampeter, 1992–2003; Senior Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales, 1995–2001. (2019).Who’s Who & Who was. Retrieved October 26 2020, from https://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/10.1093/ww/9780199540891.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-32666. 

Bristol Grammar School. (2019). Professor Keith Robbins, OB 1949-1958. Retrieved October 26 2020 from https://www.bristolgrammarschool.co.uk/whats-on-and-news/news/professor-keith-robbins-ob-1949-1958 

University of Wales Trinity Saint David. ( 2019, September 20). Professor Keith Robbins, FRSE, FRHISTS, FLSW. [Press release]. Retrieved October 27 2020 from https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/news/press-releases/press-2019/professor-keith-robbins-frse-frhists-flsw.html

D. P. Davies & Prof. Keith Robbins. (2019/20).The Link.75, 29-30. Retrieved October 27 2020 from https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/media/uwtsd-website/content-assets/documents/alumni/lampeter-society/the-link--winter-2019-20.pdf 

Fergusson, G. (1969). International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-),45(1), 107-108. doi:10.2307/2612627 

PUGH, M. (1983). [Review of the book The eclipse of a great power: modern Britain 1870-1975, by K.G. Robbins]History,68(224), 535-536. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/24417728 

Berg, M. (1986). [Review of the book The First World War, by K.G. Robbins]. The Historian,49(1), 127-127. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24446802 

Ellis, J. (1998). [Review of the book Great Britain: identities, institutions, and the idea of Britishness, by K.G. Robbins]. Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies,30(4), 656-657. doi:10.2307/4053853