William Roger Louis CBE FBA (born May 8, 1936), commonly known as Wm. Roger Louis or, informally, Roger Louis, is an American historian and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Louis is the editor-in-chief of The Oxford History of the British Empire, a former president of the American Historical Association (AHA), a former chairman of the U.S. Department of State's Historical Advisory Committee, and a founding director of the AHA's National History Center in Washington, D. C.
Louis was born in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States. His family was from Oklahoma, and he was raised in Oklahoma City.:284 He attended Northwest Classen High School and was the assistant first horn player in the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
His parents, Henry Edward Louis and Bena May Flood, were "solidly middle class people who set a strong example of the importance of work, thrift, and family". Louis admits that he is "less religious," but he describes his philosophy in life with the one-liner made famous by Franklin Roosevelt: "I am a Christian and a Democrat. What more does one need in life?"
Louis was involved in gymnastics and handball at the local YMCA, which was his first experience with segregation in Oklahoma. He traces his civil rights commitment to that experience.:496
Louis earned his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Oklahoma (OU), his Master of Arts at Harvard University, and his Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford University.
Louis entered OU in 1954 as a Letters major, an honors curriculum that included one ancient and two modern languages, English, history, and philosophy. He spent his second year of college in Freiburg and Paris, where he roomed with Hans-Peter Schwartz, a biographer of Konrad Adenauer, and befriended Nancy Maginnes, the future wife of Henry Kissinger. His time abroad kindled an interest in African and Middle Eastern nationalism. He spent the summer of 1956 in Egypt and was in Cairo when Gamel Abdel Nasser announced Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. Louis spent his last two years of college at OU, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.:290–291
With the help of OU's Philip Nolan, Louis applied for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He was admitted to Harvard in 1959.:291 The "best of [his] Harvard education" were the classes with Rupert Emerson, who taught nationalism in colonial Africa, and Barrington Moore, Jr., who provided an introduction to Karl Marx and Marxist analysis. That was "an approach so radically different from all others that it was a revelation," Louis later wrote.:291 Louis benefited from Ernest R. May, who he regards as having "one of the most fertile and inventive minds of all historians I have known.":292
After one year at Harvard, Louis transferred to St. Antony's College at the University of Oxford. Arthur Smithies, the great Australian economist, had told Louis, "If you are really interested in studying Nasser and Africa and all that rot, then you had better go somewhere where they know something about it, which definitely is not Harvard.".:292 Smithies helped Louis get a Marshall Scholarship to Oxford, where he began his studies in 1960. Louis studied under the historians Margery Perham, John Andrew Gallagher, and A. J. P. Taylor. Louis said that Taylor was "not only the towering radical historian of our time, but also one of the great writers of the English language.":292
After completing his education, Louis taught courses for eight years at Yale University on comparative imperialism, where there already existed a strong tradition of research on German colonialism. Ronald Robinson wrote, "At conference after conference, the circle of Louis' consultants widened with the number of contributors. He made his first major contribution to Imperial history as the grand impresario of symposia.".:1–12
In 1970, Louis joined the history faculty of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and became the director of the British Studies Seminar at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. He has directed British Studies since 1975, held the Kerr Chair in English History and Culture since 1985, and served as the chairman of the British Scholar Editorial Advisory Board since 2006. Louis was named in February 2009 the "University of Texas Professor of the Year" in recognition of his "unwavering dedication and service" to the students of UT.
Louis has been a proponent of area studies, a field that has risen to prominence.
Louis is best known for his work on the British Empire and focuses mostly on official British imperial policies and decolonization in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East after World War II.
Louis has written a large number of books and articles about the British Empire from 1940 to 1967, particularly concerning the Middle East,:5 the Cold War, and the rise of American imperialism in the region. His first major book, Imperialism at Bay, 1941–1945 (1977), covers the contest between British and American officials over the fate of Britain's empire in the postwar world. His second and most famous book, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951 (1984), traces the critical years of Clement Attlee's Labour cabinet when the British government maintained their informal influence in the Middle East with the backing of the United States, which saw the British Empire as a bulwark against the spread of communism.
While teaching at Yale University, Louis began his career-long practice of collaboratively editing books. Among them was, with Prosser Gifford, a series on British and German colonialism in Africa. Another was A. J. P. Taylor's views on the origins of World War II.
Later, Louis and Robert Stookey edited a book covering the creation of the state of Israel. Another, with James Bill, revisited the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry in 1951, in response to a movement led by Mohammad Mosaddegh. Yet another, with Robert Fernea, studied the Iraqi revolution of 1958.
One of his most enduring edited volumes was The Robinson and Gallagher Controversy (1976), a short volume that brought together the main lines of debate over the contributions of John Andrew Gallagher and Ronald Robinson to the history of the British Empire. Their scholarly oeuvre remains one of the most important theories about the causes and nature of British imperial expansion.
Louis's greatest achievement may be what Robinson described as "a symposia to end all symposia." Louis is the editor-in-chief of The Oxford History of the British Empire, which was funded by the Rhodes Trust and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Published initially in five volumes, it brought together more than 120 historians to cover four centuries of Britain's overseas empire. Multiple reviewers in top academic journals lauded the series as one of the great achievements of the age. One reviewer, the historian Anthony Low, wrote, "All in all, these five volumes constitute an extraordinary achievement which has brought Roger Louis's dauntingly formidable editorial skills to their apogee.... He has brought the whole enterprise to a conclusion all in one go and in an astonishingly short period of time. Those of us who have organized similar (if very much more modest) ventures can only mop our brows in amazement." The British historian Max Beloff initially and publicly expressed skepticism about a "politically correct" Texan being the editor-in-chief. He later withdrew those criticisms when it became evident in Beloff's mind that Louis had carried through the series with impartiality. Louis is the co-editor of the twentieth century volume (with Judith M. Brown) and the author of the "Historiography" introduction to the fifth volume.
He won the 1984 George Louis Beer Prize for The British Empire in the Middle East.
In 1993, Louis was elected a fellow of the British Academy. The Queen made him a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1999 in recognition of his professional achievements.
In 2009, Louis was appointed to a Kluge Chair at the Library of Congress for the 2010 spring semester.
In 2011, Louis was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an independent policy research center founded in 1780 whose early members included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton, plus its founders John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin.
Louis's early achievements as an historian were commemorated by Ronald Robinson in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History in a 1999 article entitled "Wm. Roger Louis and the Official Mind of Decolonization.":1–12
Louis has been acclaimed by A. J. P. Taylor as his generation's foremost historian of the empire. Alan Bullock has said that Louis is the leading historian of the final phase of the empire. Robinson, one of the most influential of all imperial historians, has written, "Louis takes his place among a handful of writers from Hancock to Harlow to Cain and Hopkins who have given us an original view of a major movement in British imperial history."
During his time as president of the American Historical Association, Louis wrote an essay entitled "Historians I Have Known," which discusses the historians who had the most profound impact on his scholarship. Louis included a handful of Oxford historians, each of which were among the most prominent and influential scholars of their generation: A. J. P. Taylor, Margery Perham, Ronald Robinson, John Andrew Gallagher, and Max Beloff. Other influences included Barrington Moore, Jr., Ernest R. May, and Arthur Smithies - all of Harvard - and Vincent Harlow, Roger Owen, Christopher Platt, Sarvepalli Gopal, and Albert Hourani, all of Oxford.
Louis's scholarship also has been influenced by J. C. Hurewitz, a prominent scholar of Israel and Palestine. In the preface to his book The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951, Louis stated, "My views on Arab nationalism and Zionism, and on the United States and the Middle East, have been influenced by the sensitive and dead-on-the-mark observations of J. C. Hurewitz.”
Please note that a number of the following titles refer to recently revised versions of these articles as published in Louis's volume of collected essays: Ends of British Imperialism