Dr Robert Crowcroft (BA (Hons), MA, PhD, FRHistS, FRSA, FHEA)

Senior Lecturer; Contemporary History





Originally from South Yorkshire, I have been privileged to work at some wonderful universities with fantastic students.

I read History at the University of Leeds, graduating with a First in 2003. Captivated by political history, I secured funding for an MA by Research and graduated with distinction in 2004. I commenced PhD study that same year, receiving full AHRC funding, and completed my thesis in 2007.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of being an academic is teaching. I taught at Leeds between 2004 and 2011, including a stint teaching over in Politics. Between 2008 and 2010 I also taught at the University of Sheffield. I was appointed as a Lecturer at Edinburgh in 2011, subsequently being promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2017.

I held an AHRC Early Career Fellowship in 2013-14, and was the School's 'Impact Champion' for 2018-19.

I was a Visiting Scholar in the History faculty at the University of Cambridge during the summer of 2019. I am an Associate Fellow of the Engelsberg Programme for Applied History, Grand Strategy, and Geopolitics, in the War Studies Department at King’s College London. I held a Short-Term Visiting Fellowship at Jesus College, Oxford in Hilary Term 2020.

External appointments

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

  • Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Member of the Aristotelian Society
  • Member of the History editorial board of Anthem Press
  • Chair of the History judging panel, the Undergraduate Awards (2013)
  • Senior Research Associate and Research Coordinator, UK Defence Forum (2010-2012)

Useful Links

Twitter: @RCrowcroft

Undergraduate teaching

  • British Politics in the Shadow of War, 1939 – 1945
  • Dissertations
  • From New Jerusalem to New Labour: the Labour Party in Contemporary Britain
  • Contemporary British Conservatism
  • Britain, Ireland and Empire
  • Historical Skills and Methods

Postgraduate teaching

  • British Politics and Policy in the Second World War
  • From Consensus to Thatcherism: Government and Politics in Post-War Britain
  • Dissertations
  • Historical Methodology
  • Historical Research: Skills and Sources
  • Historical Research: Approaches to History
  • Introduction to Contemporary History

Current PhD students supervised

  • Aikman, Calum - PhD - ‘The fragmentation of the Labour party ‘revisionist’ right, 1971-1983’ - Primary - link
  • Moxey, Sarah - PhD - ‘Politics in Scotland during the Second World War’ - Primary

Past PhD students supervised

  • Cooper, Timothy - PhD - The idea of the "Yellow Peril" in the United States and the United Kingdom, c. 1890-1930 - Secondary - Completed 2018
  • Johnston, Robert - MScR - ‘The Union in peril: Disunity, home rule and oil, 1979-1977’ - Secondary - Completed 2017
  • Abernethy, Sally - MScR - ‘“Let us be cool, calm - and elected”: Conservative party strategy and the “centre” in the 1983 British general election’ - Primary - Completed 2014
  • Standring, HannahMScR‘The Conservative party and British foreign policy in the 1920s’Primary2014
  • Moxey, Sarah - MScR - ‘All in it together? Scotland, national unity and public opinion during the Second World War’ - Secondary - Completed 2013
  • Aikman, Calum - MScR - ‘The Labour party right and Britain’s entry into the Common Market, 1971’ - Secondary - Completed 2013

Research summary


  • Britain & Ireland


  • Diplomatic History
  • Ideas
  • Politics
  • War


  • Twentieth Century & After

Research interests

I am interested in the character and conduct of politics and statecraft in free societies. My research particularly centres on moments where political systems have been subjected to acute stresses such as war - partly on the logic that such crises are inherently interesting, but partly in the conviction that these moments are where the character of the system is most likely to be revealed. My interests have led me down all sorts of stimulating intellectual paths, from political parties to leadership, ideas to individuals, and diplomacy to war.

My most recent book, The End is Nigh: British Politics, Power, and the Road to the Second World War was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. A trade book aimed at a wide audience, The End is Nigh constitutes a major new history of British politics in the years prior to the greatest conflict in human history. Published to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1939, it is also a warning of the catastrophe that can follow when statecraft fails. The book sets out to challenge key public myths that sit at the heart of Britain's self-image. It reveals the dialectical relationship between British foreign policy and domestic politics, and the way in which the development of a coherent strategy for dealing with the dictators was undermined by political competition and fierce intrigue at Westminster. Foreign policy was weaponised for political advantage, something that eventually culminated in irretrievable disaster. Appearing at a moment when political ambition and British foreign policy have once again become dangerously intertwined, The End is Nigh takes account of the latest research and crafts a new account of one of the most dangerous periods in British history. It was named as one of the best History books of the year in The Daily TelegraphStandpoint magazine wrote that the book is 'a savage and subtle critique' that 'brilliantly sums up the problem with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy'. The Financial Times observed that the parallels with contemporary politics are 'more than occasionally discernible'.

Current research activities

I currently have strong interests in 'Applied History', that is, the question of how history can be used to improve decision-making in the present and future. I am inclined to agree with the judgement of John Robert Seeley that history is a unique 'school of statesmanship'. I published comment pieces on Applied History in History Todaymagazine and the leading US national security community website, War on the Rocks that were well received and identified an appetite for a larger project. I edited a collection of essays in the area, Applied History and Contemporary Policymaking: School of Statecraft, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2022. I am currently working on a book of my own in the area.

Research projects

I have edited a pair of major reference books targeted at a general audience of people interested in history, particularly school pupils. The latest editions of The Oxford Companion to British History and A Dictionary of British History were published by Oxford University Press in 2015. They are the standard global works of their type. Ranging across millennia of British history and containing thousands of entries written by dozens of eminent scholars, these immensely popular volumes provide an accessible and engaging guide to our island story. OUP invited me to take over the stewardship of these titles following the death of the distinguished historian of eighteenth century British politics, Professor John Cannon, founding editor of the volumes. These books have helped to bring history to life for many thousands of people, and it is a privilege to be associated with them.

I co-edited (with Gordon Pentland at Edinburgh and David Brown at Southampton) The Oxford Handbook of Modern British Political History, 1800-2000, published in 2018 by OUP. This volume of some 300,000 words assembled a cast of more than thirty leading scholars to provide a panoramic view of the discipline and identity new agendas for historical research. The London Review of Books kindly wrote that my own essay in the volume, 'The Role of the Politician in the Democratic Regime', 'fizzes with ideas'. A piece in Parliamentary History remarked that it posed 'an extraordinary, freewheeling set of challenges' to the field.

My first book, Attlee’s War: World War II and the Making of a Labour Leader, was published by I.B. Tauris in 2011. Attlee is an iconic figure, but remains as poorly understood by historians as he was by contemporaries. He also underwent a comprehensive charisma bypass. A study in Attlee’s methods of leadership during his time as deputy prime minister under Winston Churchill in the coalition government of the Second World War, the book sought to develop a much firmer understanding of this transformative figure than had prevailed hitherto. It revealed Attlee as a powerful actor in Whitehall and a cunning operator in party politics who played a key role in the success (and survival) of the Churchill coalition. Attlee’s War was named one of the best books published during 2011 in Total Politics magazine. It also appeared on the Christmas reading list for ministers drawn up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

My work ranges across a variety of other topics. I’ve published a number of articles and essays on Second World War politics, contemporary strategic issues, the writing of political history, constitutional history, and the history of the Labour and Conservative parties. And I have a longstanding interest in the work of the brilliant, and controversial, Cambridge historian Maurice Cowling.

The list below is a subset of the information held on the University of Edinburgh PURE system, and includes Books, Chapters, Articles and Conference contributions. For a full list, including details of other publication types (e.g. reviews), please see the Edinburgh Research Explorer page for Dr Robert Crowcroft.

Books - Authored

Crowcroft, R. (2019) The End is Nigh: British Politics, Power, and the Road to the Second World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Crowcroft, R. (2011) Attlee’s War: World War II and the Making of a Labour Leader. London: I.B. Tauris

Books - Edited

Brown, D., Crowcroft, R. and Pentland, G. (eds.) (2018) Oxford Handbook of Modern British Political History, 1800-2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Cannon, J. and Crowcroft, R. (eds.) (2015) The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford University Press

Crowcroft, R. and Cannon, J. (eds.) (2015) A Dictionary of British History. Oxford University PressDOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780191758027.001.0001

Crowcroft, R., Green, S. and Whiting, R. (eds.) (2010) The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy.London: I.B. Tauris


Crowcroft, R. (2017) Peering into the future: British Conservative leaders and the problem of national renewal, 1942-5. Historical Research, 90(250), pp. 788-809DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2281.12194

Crowcroft, R. (2015) Financial policy, coalition and Sir Kingsley Wood, 1940–1. Twentieth Century British History, 26(1), pp. 74-96DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwu044

Crowcroft, R. (2015) ‘Making a reality of collective responsibility’: The Lord President's committee, coalition and the British state at war, 1941–42. Contemporary British History, 29(4), pp. 539-562DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13619462.2015.1011389

Crowcroft, R. and Hartley, O. (2013) ‘Mind the Gap’: Divergent Visions of National Priorities and the International System within Contemporary British Government. Defence Studies, 12(4), pp. 479-502DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14702436.2012.745962

Crowcroft, R. (2012) Globalisation and public language. The Political Quarterly, 83(4), pp. 786-91DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-923X.2012.02353.x

Crowcroft, R. (2012) A war on “risk”? British government and the National Security Strategy. The Political Quarterly, 83(1), pp. 172-76DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-923X.2012.02277.x

Crowcroft, R. (2008) The ‘high politics’ of Labour party factionalism, 1950-5. Historical Research, 81(214), pp. 679-709DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2281.2007.00437.x

Crowcroft, R. (2008) “What is Happening in Europe?”: Richard Stokes, fascism, and the anti-war movement in the British Labour party during the Second World War and after. History, 93(312), pp. 679-709DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-229X.2008.00435.x

Crowcroft, R. (2008) Maurice Cowling and the writing of British political history. Contemporary British History, 22(2), pp. 279-86DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13619460701413199


Crowcroft, R. (2018) 'The role of the politician in the democratic regime'. In:  The Oxford Handbook of Modern British Political History, 1800-2000. Oxford, pp. 361-79

Crowcroft, R. and Kelly, R. (2013) From Burke to Burkha: Conservatism, multiculturalism, and the Big Society. In: Edwards, J. (ed.) Retrieving the Big Society. Blackwells, pp. 109-19

Crowcroft, R. and Theakston, K. (2013) The end of the Attlee government: A whimper not a bang. In: Theakston, K. and Heppell, T. (eds.) How Labour Governments Fall. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 61-82

Crowcroft, R. (2012) Rising to the challenge? The State since 9/11. In:  9/11 Ten Years After: Perspectives and Problems.Ashgate Publishing, pp. 161-77

Crowcroft, R. (2010) ‘High politics’, political practice and the Labour party. In:  The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy: Maurice Cowling and Conservatism. I.B. Tauris, pp. 153-85

Crowcroft, R., Green, S. and Whiting, R. (2010) The impact of Cowling. In:  The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy: Maurice Cowling and Conservatism., pp. 270-95

Crowcroft, R., Green, S. and Whiting, R. (2010) The significance of Cowling. In:  The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy: Maurice Cowling and Conservatism. I.B. Tauris, pp. 1-12

Crowcroft, R. (2008) Labour party factionalism and West German rearmament, 1950-4. In: Corthorn, P. and Davis, J. (eds.) The British Labour Party and the Wider World: Domestic Politics, Internationalism and Foreign Polic. I.B. Tauris, pp. 127-44