Elected: 1977
Discipline: Unspecified at this time
Professor Denys Hay FRSE
Nine a.m. on a January morning in 1946, not a promising time for new visions, but the European History class at Edinburgh University knew that this class would never be the same again. The new lecturer, freshly demobbed from the place on the ‘war history’ team to which he had been transferred from the RASC in 1942, was a master of synthesis, of the broad view, of the common social and political ideas which governed the evolution of diverse European states, and which, with the course in his hands, replaced the treaty-catalogue to which an older generation was addicted. He would confess that for parts of the course he was only a chapter ahead of the students, but in truth that book did not exist for him or us, the detail drawn and the insights arising from the wide reading which was his principal joy outside his family.

Denys Hay came to us tried and tested by sundry experiences which were not the lot of his later colleagues. Born on 29 August 1915 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he lost his father when he was one year old and was brought up in the home of his maternal grandparents. In Newcastle Royal Grammar School he flourished in the hands of talented masters, won a scholarship to Balliol College where Galbraith was still a History tutor, and duly achieved a first and a research Senior Demyship at Magdalen College. He had already shown, and been steered away from, an interest in the Italian Renaissance, but he now began his study of the Anglica Historia by the Italian Polydore Vergil, written for Henry VIII but in its day an historiographical masterpiece. A short- term post at Glasgow led him to an assistant lectureship at Southampton (1939), from which he was called up after a year. Of his war service he was more likely to tell of chasing incendiaries round the dome of St Paul’s, than of maintaining vehicles or even researching collaborative war history.

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