Sir Keith Thomas MA, FBA
Historian and distinguished supporter of Humanism
Sir Keith VivianThomas was born in 1933 in the village of Wick, Glamorgan. He was educated at Barry County Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, and was a Fellow of All Souls College,Oxford from 1955 until 1957, when he was elected Fellow of St John’s College.
Though he is perhaps best known by humanists for his books Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) and Man and the Natural World (1983), he had a very distinguished career in academia and public life. He served for some time as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and a Delegate to the University Press, and was a consultant editor to the Dictionary of National Biography, a member of the Economic and Social Research Council (1985-90), and of the Reviewing Committee on Exports of Works of Art 1990-93, and, since 1992, of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. From 1991 until 1998, he was a Trustee of the National Gallery and since 1997 he has been Chairman of the British Library Advisory Committee for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
He has won many awards and honours for his work, and in 1988, HM The Queen appointed him Knight Bachelor.
In a review in The Independent of The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England (2009) D J Taylor wrote: ‘The questions Thomas wants to ask of the early modern Englishman and woman’s quest for self-fulfilment are: “What did they seek to make of themselves? What goals did they pursue? What were the objectives which, in their eyes, gave life its meaning?” Thomas-fanciers will note that this thread runs back to the intervention that made his name in 1963, the celebrated essay on “History and Anthropology”, with its brisk advocacy of the need for history to peddle social context and humanist self-awareness: Thomas notes here that his mission as a scholar has been to conduct “a retrospective ethnography of early modern England, approaching the past in the way an anthropologist might approach some exotic society”.’
See also his All Souls profile
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