Richard J. Evans

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Evans is probably best known to the general public in the role of an expert witness for the defence in the high-profile libel case of David Irving against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt in 2000, Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt . Lipstadt was sued for libel by Irving, after she referred to him as a "Holocaust denier" and "an ardent follower of Adolf Hitler" in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust . Lipstadt further accused Irving of "distorting evidence and manipulating documents to serve his own purposes...[as well as] skewing documents and misrepresenting data in order to reach historically untenable conclusions, particularly those that exonerate Hitler." [20]

Evans acted as an expert witness for the defence in the case. Starting in the autumn of 1997, Evans, along with Thomas Skelton-Robinson and Nik Wachsmann, two of his PhD students, closely examined Irving's work. [21] They found instances in which he had used forged documents, disregarded contrary evidence, selectively quoted historical documents out of context, and mis-cited historical records, thus misrepresenting historical evidence in order to support his prejudices. [22] [23] Evans subsequently proved to be a powerful witness in Lipstadt's ultimately successful defence. In his expert witness report he wrote:

Not one of [Irving's] books, speeches or articles, not one paragraph, not one sentence in any of them, can be taken on trust as an accurate representation of its historical subject. All of them are completely worthless as history, because Irving cannot be trusted anywhere, in any of them, to give a reliable account of what he is talking or writing about. ... if we mean by historian someone who is concerned to discover the truth about the past, and to give as accurate a representation of it as possible, then Irving is not a historian. [24]

The cross-examination of Evans by Irving was noted for the high degree of personal dislike between the two men. [25] Such was the degree of dislike that Irving challenged Evans on very minor points, such as Evans doubting the fairness of a 1938 German plebiscite in which the Nazi regime received 98.8% of the vote. [26] A subject that drew Irving and Evans deep into debate was a memo by the Chief of the Reich Chancellery Hans Lammers to the Reich Justice Minister Franz Schlegelberger in which Lammers wrote that Hitler ordered him to put the "Jewish Question" on the "back-burner" until after the war. [27] Evans chose to accept the interpretation of the memo put forward by Eberhard Jäckel in the 1970s; [28] Irving chose to interpret the memo literally and taunted Evans by saying, "It is a terrible problem, is it not that we are faced with this tantalizing plate of crumbs and morsels of what should have provided the final smoking gun, and nowhere the whole way through the archives do we find even one item that we do not have to interpret or read between the lines of, but we do have in the same chain of evidence documents which...quite clearly specifically show Hitler intervening in the other sense?" [29]

In response, Evans stated, "No, I do not accept that at all. It is because you want to interpret euphemisms as being literal, and that is what the whole problem is. Every time there is a euphemism, Mr. Irving ... or a camouflage piece of statement or language about Madagascar, you want to treat it as the literal truth, because it serves your purpose of trying to exculpate Hitler. That is part of ... the way you manipulate and distort the documents." [30]

In a 2001 interview, Evans described to the Canadian columnist Robert Fulford his impression of Irving after being cross-examined by him as: "He [Irving] was a bit like a dim student who didn't listen. If he didn't get the answer he wanted, he just repeated the question." [31]

His findings and his account of the trial were published in his 2001 book Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, which was published as Telling Lies About Hitler in the United States in 2002. The High Court rejected Irving's libel suit and awarded costs to the defence.[ citation needed ]

Evans' involvement in the trial was included in the 2016 film Denial , in which he was played by British actor John Sessions. [32]

The Third Reich Trilogy

Between 2003 and 2008, Evans published a three-volume history of the Third Reich. Drawing on years of experience as a leading scholar of German history, Evans produced what some historians call the most extensive and comprehensive history of the rise and fall of Hitler's regime ever produced by a single scholar. Reviewer Peter Mansoor says, "The Third Reich at War is a superb piece of scholarship that is likely to emerge as the definitive account of life and death inside Hitler's blood soaked Third Reich." [33] Robert Citino says, "Read together, the three volumes constitute a remarkably comprehensive treatment of the origins, course, and death of the Hitler regime, and are likely to be standard works for a long time to come." [34] Ed Ericson says:

Evans masterfully interweaves testimony that has come to light in the intervening decades with learned judgments from hundreds of authors to create a balanced and thoughtful narrative. This book, therefore, will assuredly become the definitive work on The Third Reich at War. [35]

The first volume, The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany (published by Penguin in 2003), shows how a country torn apart by the First World War, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation and the Great Depression moved towards an increasingly authoritarian solution. The book explains in detail Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in January 1933 and how the Nazis transformed Germany into a one party dictatorship. The first volume featured highly favorable words of praise from Evans's friend Ian Kershaw on its cover. [2]

The second volume, The Third Reich in Power, 1933–1939: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation (published by Penguin in 2005), covers the years of Nazi rule between 1933 and 1939. The final chapter examines the road to the Second World War, but the real focus is on life inside the Third Reich. Evans allows small stories of key individuals to illustrate many of the key social, economic and cultural events of the period. Richard Overy described this instalment of the trilogy as "magisterial." [36]

The third volume, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster (published by Penguin in 2008), looks at major developments from 1939 to 1945, including the key battles of the Second World War, a vivid, moving and detailed account of the mass murder enacted during the Holocaust and Hitler's dramatic downfall in Berlin in 1945. In an October 2008 review of the third volume for The Times , best-selling historian Antony Beevor writes: "With this third volume, Richard Evans has accomplished a masterpiece of historical scholarship ... [He] has produced the best and most up-to-date synthesis of the huge work carried out on the subject over the past decades." [37] Aspects of it, however, were sharply criticised by Timothy Snyder. [38]

Walter Reich, former Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D. C., states about the third-volume of the trilogy, The Third Reich at War, "If any work of accurate history has a chance to correct the distortions of public memory, this is it." [39]

The Third Reich trilogy has been, or is being translated into sixteen foreign languages.

Recent publications and current work

Evans at the Frankfurt Book Fair presenting his book about the Third Reich in 2016 Richard J. Evans.JPG
Evans at the Frankfurt Book Fair presenting his book about the Third Reich in 2016

In 2013, Evans delivered the Menachem Stern Jerusalem Lectures to the Historical Society of Israel, publishing them in 2014 as "Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History". The book puts forward a variety of arguments against the use of long-range alternative historical timelines as an aid to serious historical understanding. In "Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent" (2009, an expanded version of his Inaugural Lecture as Regius Professor), he explored the reasons why so many British historians have made such major contributions to the historical understanding of other European countries. "The Third Reich in History and Memory" (2015) is a collection of 28 articles and review essays on modern German history published since the turn of the century.

In 2016, Evans published The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914, volume 7 in the Penguin History of Europe . It has been widely reviewed. Gerard De Groot, writing in The Times, commented that the book "chronicles a turbulent and confusing century with wonderful clarity and one great canvas of immense detail and beauty...transnational history at its finest." Dominic Sandbrook, in the Sunday Times, described it as "dazzlingly erudite and entertaining." It has been, or is being translated into Dutch, Spanish, German, Greek, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese and Italian. [40]

He has written a biography on the historian Eric Hobsbawm entitled 'Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History'. From 2013 to 2018 he was Principal Investigator in a £1.6 million Leverhulme Programme Grant on conspiracy theories ( and is preparing work based on the findings of the project.

Regius Professor of Modern History

In 2008, Evans was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge (in 2010 the word "Modern" was removed from the title by royal decree). The post is a royal appointment in the gift of the Prime Minister of the day and dates back to 1724. Previous holders of the title have included John Dalberg-Acton (1895), Herbert Butterfield (1963), Geoffrey Elton (1983), Patrick Collinson (1988) and Quentin Skinner (1998). Evans is the first historian to have to apply for the post and be interviewed by a Board of Electors, including Cambridge's Vice-Chancellor, Alison Richard, and representatives of the history faculty and the university, as well as external assessors from Yale, Harvard, Oxford and London. The board selected a shortlist of four, each of whom was asked to give a presentation to the entire Cambridge history faculty. The shortlist of four was then reduced to two, whom the board interviewed, resulting in the board's recommendation of Evans to the Prime Minister and in the issue of a Royal Warrant for his appointment. [41] As well as serving as Regius Professor, Evans served as chairman of the history faculty from October 2008 to 30 September 2010.

Evans is used to combining administration with research. At Birkbeck College, London, where he worked before Cambridge, he acted as Master of the college when Baroness Blackstone left suddenly to become Tony Blair's first higher education minister. On 27 January 2010 he was elected to the position of President of Wolfson College, Cambridge, serving the statutory seven-year term of office until retiring from the post on 30 September 2017. During this period he focused on building up the college as a centre of contemporary culture, with art exhibitions by Richard Deacon and Anthony Green, and talks by Martin Amis and Neil MacGregor, among many others. In 2014 he was appointed Provost of Gresham College, in the City of London, an institution founded in 1597 to provide free lectures to Londoners. There are now over 2,000 lectures on the college's website and the 130 lectures a year are all live-streamed.

Media appearances

Sir Richard J. Evans

Sir Richard Evans.jpg
Evans in his role as Provost of Gresham College in 2015
Richard John Evans

(1947-09-29) 29 September 1947 (age 75) [1]
Woodford, London, England
Academic background
Alma mater Jesus College, Oxford (MA)
St Antony's College, Oxford (DPhil)
Hamburg University
Doctoral advisorTony Nicholls [2]

Evans has appeared regularly on a number of TV documentaries related to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. He recently appeared on a major TV documentary on the History Channel which examined the Valkyrie bomb plot against Hitler in July 1944.

He writes reviews of history books for the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian, as well as historical reflections on recent events for American magazines and websites, including Foreign Policy, The Nation, and Vox.

Other contributions

Evans has been co-editor of the Journal of Contemporary History since 2000, and has also served as Deputy Chair of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a UK government non-departmental public body formed to make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the restitution of cultural objects looted during the Nazi era. He has been a judge of the Wolfson History Prize, the UK's richest history book award, for over twenty years.

Lectures and commentaries

In 2011, Evans became involved in a polemical exchange of letters with Peter Baldwin after agreeing with Leif Jerram, who wrote in Cosmopolitan Islanders in 2009 that students in Britain could find a richer selection of courses on the histories of other countries in British universities than students from other countries could in their own countries. [42]

Hobsbawm lecture

On 7 February 2019, Evans gave a lecture at Chancellor's Hall in the University of London's Senate House to launch his new biography of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, A Life in History. [43] At the time, a boycott of the University of London including the Senate House, organised by the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain and supported by a number of high-profile politicians, journalists and academics, including John McDonnell, Owen Jones, Ken Loach and David Graeber in order to pressure University of London to bring their outsourced maintenance staff back in house, was in place. [44] [45] Citing the hypocrisy of breaking a boycott in support of workers' rights to give a talk about a lifelong committed communist, the union and other supporters encouraged Evans to relocate his talk, requests which he ignored. [46] [47] [48]

Honours and distinctions

1978 Fellow of the Royal Historical Society 1988 Wolfson History Prize 1989 William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine 1993 Civic Medal for Arts and Sciences of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

1994 Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History 1998 Honorary Fellow, Jesus College, Oxford 1999 Honorary Fellow, Birkbeck, University of London

2010 Founding Fellow, Learned Society of Wales (FLSW) 2011 Honorary Fellow, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

2012 Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of London 2015 Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Oxford 2015 British Academy Leverhulme Prize and Medal 2017 Honorary Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge


See also


  1. Sleeman, Elizabeth (2003). The International Who's Who 2004. Routledge. ISBN   1-85743-217-7.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Snowman, Daniel (January 2004). "Daniel Snowman meets the historian of Germany, defender of history and expert witness in the Irving trial" . History Today. 54 (1): 45–47. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  3. "No. 60173". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 2012. p. 1.
  4. "Queen's birthday Honours list in full". The Telegraph . 16 June 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  5. "The Historical Society of Israel". Richard J. Evans. 25 April 2013. I'm of a Welsh background; all my family comes from North Wales and were all Welsh-speaking, though I grew up in London, and so I didn't learn Welsh.
  6. "Searching for an explanation of the origins and rise of Nazism in German history inevitably runs the risk of making the whole process seem inevitable. At almost every turn, however, things might have been different. The triumph of Nazism was far from a foregone conclusion right up to the early months of 1933. Yet it was no historical accident, either." Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich 2004, pp. xxvii–xviii
  7. Hamerow, Theodore S. (1983). "Guilt, Redemption and Writing German History". The American Historical Review . 88 (1): 53–72 [p. 70]. doi:10.2307/1869345. JSTOR   1869345.
  8. 1 2 Evans, Richard "Introduction: Wilhelm II's Germany and the Historians" from Society And Politics in Wilhelmine Germany London: Croom Helm, 1978, pp. 22–23.
  9. ""I worry that the view people have of the past is becoming narrower": an interview with Sir Richard J Evans". HistoryExtra.
  10. See Richard Evans, In Defence of History, London, 2002.
  11. Evans 1989 , pp. 33–34, 42–43, 56, 82–83, 184–185
  12. Evans 1989 , p. 83
  13. Evans 1989 , pp. 32–33
  14. Evans 1989 , p. 38
  15. Evans 1989 , pp. 68–72
  16. Evans 1989 , p. 119
  17. Evans 1989 , p. 71
  18. Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999), p. xvii.
  19. Guttenplan 2001 , p. 290
  20. Evans, Richard Lying About Hitler, London: Perseus Books, 2002, p. 6
  21. Lipstadt, Deborah, History on trial: my day in court with David Irving, New York: ECCO, 2005, p. 43
  22. Evans, Richard Lying About Hitler, London: Perseus Books, 2002
  23. Guttenplan 2001 , p. 218.
  24. Evans, Richard J. "Chapter 6. General Conclusion". Expert Witness Report by Richard J. Evans FBA, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge. Holocaust Denial on Trial. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  25. Guttenplan 2001 , p. 223
  26. Guttenplan 2001 , p. 226.
  27. Guttenplan 2001 , pp. 230–233
  28. Guttenplan 2001 , pp. 230–232
  29. Guttenplan 2001 , pp. 232–233
  30. Guttenplan 2001 , p. 233
  31. Fulford, Robert (30 January 2001). "David Irving: The Libel Trial Re-Examined". The National Post. Retrieved 14 December 2008.
  32. "IMDB". IMDb . Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  33. Peter Mansoor review in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies (2011) 30#1 pp 187-189
  34. Robert M. Citino review in Central European History (2010) 43#3 pp 535-537
  35. Ed Ericson III review in Historian (2011) 73#2 pp 382-383, doi : 10.1111/j.1540-6563.2011.00294_50.x
  36. Overy, Richard. "The Third Reich in Power, 1933–39 by Richard J. Evans". Literary Review (November 2005): 23–24. Retrieved 17 May 2005.
  37. Beevor, Antony (9 October 2008). "The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans". The Times. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
  38. Snyder, Timothy (2009). "Nazis, Soviets, Poles, Jews". The New York Review of Books . 56 (19). Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  39. Reich, Walter (13 May 2009). "We Are All Guilty". The New York Times.
  40. Evans, R.J. "Alla conquista del potere. Europa 1815-1914", Laterza 2020.
  41. He applied for the distinguished Cambridge position of Regius professor, rather than being appointed, a procedural change at Cambridge. "Richard Evans: The don who's making history". The Independent. London. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  42. "Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History". Birkbeck, University of London . Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  43. "Largest university in UK hit by boycott over outsourced staff". Personnel Today. 10 December 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  44. "Academics, politicians and trade unionists join boycott of UofL's use of outsourced workers". Morning Star . 10 December 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  45. Rawlinson, Kevin (7 February 2019). "Talk about Marxist historian under fire for breaching workers' rights boycott". The Guardian . Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  46. "Senior Marxist academics accused of breaking boycott to give talk about Marxism". Belfast Telegraph . Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  47. "Senior Marxist academics accused of breaking boycott to give talk about Marxism". The Argus . Retrieved 9 February 2019.

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Academic offices
Preceded by President of Wolfson College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Jane Clarke (scientist)
Preceded by Cambridge Regius Professor of (Modern) History
Succeeded by