Professor Arthur Burns (1963-2023)

4 October 2023

We are deeply saddened to learn of the death, on 3 October, of our friend and colleague Professor Arthur Burns.

In addition to his brilliant academic work at King’s College, London, Arthur was also a leading figure in the support and development of the historical profession.

This support included his long and very valuable involvement with the Royal Historical Society, to which he was elected a Fellow in January 2000. In the 2010s, Arthur served in two Officer roles on the Society’s governing Council: first as one of two Literary Directors (2008-12) and then as Vice-President (Education) between 2012 and 2016. In the former role, Arthur was jointly responsible for the RHS journal, Transactions, and the Camden Series of scholarly primary editions. Arthur took a real, informed interest in school history, and for this reason was the ideal person to represent the RHS as Vice-President for Education in negotiations with Michael Gove and his department concerning the overhaul of the national curriculum and reform of GCSE and A-level. That was often a process of damage limitation, but it takes a particularly patient and knowing person to see that damage limitation is often the best one can do—and very much worth doing—and Arthur was that person.

In addition to his work for the Royal Historical Society, Arthur made great contributions to many other scholarly organisations and networks. These included the Historical Association—as Chair of its Higher Education Committee; President of the Church of England Record Society; Academic Director of the transatlantic Georgian Papers Programme; co-creator of the pioneering Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835; and as a generous co-convenor of the Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research. Many historians have benefited from these, and other, societies and projects to which Arthur was central.

Arthur’s dedication and commitment to the value of history and the historical profession were remarkable. We will all miss Arthur’s enthusiasm for and championing of our discipline. We send our deepest sympathy to Arthur’s family, and to his many colleagues, students and friends, at this time.

As President of the Royal Historical Society (2012-16), Professor Peter Mandler, worked closely with Arthur on the RHS Council:

“Arthur was one of those tireless and selfless labourers in the vineyard on behalf of the whole discipline and profession. His work on school history was happily recognised years ago with an honorary fellowship of the Historical Association. But that was far from the only issue on which he worked—the transition from school to university was something that he cared a lot about, and also the health of the publishing infrastructure (an interest that dates back to his work for Past & Present in his relative youth and to his role in the Church of England Record Society).

Arthur was truly an all-rounder and the kind of person on whom the health of our profession depends, especially at a time when we can’t necessarily rely any longer on our own universities to attend to or even care about the health of our profession. He was also a wonderful friend to me personally for decades and always good, uplifting company—I can’t think of more than a very few occasions when he was anything other than supportive, optimistic and bubbling with ideas.”