Donald Cameron Watt

Bord 1928 died 2014. 

In his long, eventful and fully lived life Donald achieved much. He was a larger than life man and academic who many could admire and few could try to emulate. He was engaging and humorous as a friend and colleague and insightful, ground-breaking and encouraging as an academic. He was an accomplished singer and might well have been an opera star if his life had developed differently. And for many, most of all, he was a great raconteur. He will be much missed by friends and the academic community, which he graced with his presence. 

Donald’s life reflected the flair and bright colours of his character (and his ties). He did military service in Austria before going on to university where he graduated in 1951. After a short spell at the Foreign Office he joined the LSE where he rose to be the Stevenson Professor of International History in 1981. He contributed much to the historical understanding of the twentieth century and his work culminated in the lengthy study: How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, which won the Wolfson History Prize. He was a formidable scholar and a warm friend to those he knew well. Warren Kimball recounts many a story of the gentlemanly hospitality and good humour that he experienced with Donald when he and his late wife Jackie came to the UK in the early 1980s. That friendship abided and strengthened over the years.

For my own part as a young man of eighteen back in 1969, I first came across D.C. Watt when I chose his new edition of Mein Kampf for my school history prize. Mein Kampf was still seen as so dangerous that it needed a level-headed historian to provide a substantial preface and Donald certainly did that. Only a few years later when I was studying at Durham University I read his Personalities and Policies: Studies in the Formulation of British Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century: for me it was an iconic piece of work that encouraged me along my academic route and did much to influence my own approach to history. By now D.C. Watt had become quite a feature in my academic life, but even better was soon to come when in the mid 1980s my friend and mentor Warren Kimball invited me to a conference he was organizing at Rutgers. One of the keynote speakers was Donald Watt. And so I came personally to know one of my academic heroes and he did not disappoint.

I met Donald on several occasions later and my admiration for him as an academic continued to grow. Therefore in 2009 when Tony McCulloch suggested that we should have a prize for the best paper from a young or early career scholar at the annual Transatlantic Studies Association Conference and that it should be named in honour of Donald, there was no other candidate in the field. Both I, and David Ryan, then Vice Chair of the TSA, deemed it to be so appropriate.

By this time Donald’s health was beginning to fail, but we brought him down to Canterbury by car for the TSA conference dinner and Priscilla Roberts took care of him. He was clearly delighted with the prize named after him and took pleasure in awarding it to the first winner Bronwen Everill. It is so fitting that he will be remembered this way at every TSA annual conference. It feels good at his departing to know that the TSA will continue to play a role in acknowledging Donald as a scholar who contributed so much throughout his life and who in this small way will continue to encourage young scholars through the award of the prize bearing his name. 

Alan P. Dobson

Professor Honorary Swansea University

Founder and Editor Journal of Transatlantic Studies

Founder and Chair 2002-2013 Transatlantic Studies Association