Donald Sassoon, Emeritus Professor of Comparative European History


Credit: Gabriel Pecot

Professor Donald Sassoon was born in Cairo and was educated in Paris, Milan, London and the United States.

He obtained his first degree in 1969 from University College London, his MA from the Pennsylvania State University, and his PhD from Birkbeck College, University of London.

He taught at Westfield College, University of London until its merger with Queen Mary, and then at Queen Mary, University of London until his retirement in 2012. He has lectured at universities throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, spoken at conferences in over thirty countries and is frequently interviewed by the international media.

In 1999 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Trento, Italy. In 2000 he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Remarque Institute at New York University and during 2002 he was Senior Research Fellow at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. In 2005 he was Professeur invité at the Université de Paris XIII. In the Fall of 2009 he was the Samuel Wood Brooks Visiting Fellow in English Literature at the University of Queensland. In March 2011 he was Distinguished Visiting Fellow, History Department, Boston College.

Research interests:

Professor Sassoon wrote two books on Italian history (see Curriculum Vitae) and politics before producing in 1996 One Hundred Years of Socialism a massive (1,000 pages) study of the development of socialism in Western Europe-regarded as the classic text by Eric Hobsbawm. It won the Deutscher Prize 1997 and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Swedish, Chinese, and Portuguese. He is the author of almost one hundred articles and essays.

His much praised Mona Lisa: The History of the World’s Most Famous Painting (Harper Collins 2001, US edition Becoming Mona Lisa, Harcourt) has been published in translation in Italy, Spain, Korea, Brazil, Finland, China, Taiwan, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. In this book Donald Sassoon describes not only the Mona Lisa and its history, but its mythology, and the processes which combined to raise it to its current level of fame.

In 2006 he also published a pictorial history of the Mona Lisa entitled Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, already translated in German, French, Italian, Hungarian and Spanish.
Between 1996 and 2006  Professor Sassoon was engaged in a major project mapping out the growth and development of cultural markets throughout Europe since 1800 encompassing publishing, novel-writing, the press, the theatre, music, the recording industry, the cinema, radio and television, down to the web, computer games and the iPod. The Nuffield Foundation backed this project by awarding him a Social Science Research Fellowship in 1997-98. Further backing was received from the Leverhulme Trust with a three-year Major Research Fellowship (2000-2003).

The book, The Culture of the Europeans, 1,660 pages long divided into sixty-two chapters, was published in 2006 to wide acclaim: ‘unique and encyclopaedic…a monument to streetwise and cosmopolitan scholarship’  (Eric Hobsbawm); ‘historians such as Sassoon now occupy the commanding heights of comparative European history and analysis’ (Financial Times); ‘An absorbing, illuminating and enjoyable book…anyone with an interest in the development of culture will find it interesting, informative and surprisingly entertaining.’ (Daily Telegraph); ‘a truly European study’ (Times Literary Supplement) ‘geographically ambitious…and only someone as cosmopolitan as Sassoon could have undertaken it’ (History Today).

It has been translated into Spanish, Estonian, Korean and Italian and is being translated into Chinese. In 2009 the book was awarded the Premio Alassio Internazionale in Italy and in 2012 it awarded the Grand Prize by the Korean publishing industry.

ˆDonald SassoonTJ3YAt the end of 2007 his Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism – a study of the circumstances leading to Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister in October 1922 – was published by Harper Press. It has already been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

Professor Sassoon is on the board of the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies (London), the Journal of Modern Italian Studies (USA), Thesis Eleven (Australia), Studi Storici (Rome), the journal of culture and communication Hermès (Paris) and is the Literary Editor of The Political Quarterly. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of the publishing house IB Tauris.

He writes regularly for the cultural supplement of the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. He is frequently interviewed particularly by Swiss, Italian and British media.

He was a member of the Comité Scientifique the Maison de l’Histoire de France. 2010-12

Since 2009 Professor Sassoon has been the curator of the annual history festival of the City of Genoa La Storia in Piazza organized by the Fondazione Palazzo Ducale which attracts over 20,000 people.

Professor Sassoon retired in 2012 but is as busy as ever. In 2012 he gave talks and lectures at the Fundació MAPFRE (Madrid), at Tallinn University (Estonia),  at Fort Hare University (South Africa), New Europe College and the University of Bucharest, the keynote address on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Irish Labour Party (Kilkenny), the keynote address to the conference of the Society of Italian Studies, a talk on Victor Hugo and Dickens at the Guernsey Literary Festival; a lecture on ‘Constructing Historical Memories’ Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon, a lecture on ‘The Goodies and the Baddies in 20th century popular literature’ at the Rendez-vous de l’histoire, Blois, and a lecture on Mona Lisa at the North Rheine Westphalia Representation in Brussels.

Professor Sassoon is currently working on global capitalism in the period 1880-1914.


Publications since 2010

Preface to Giuseppe Mazzini, Dei Doveri dell’uomo, Rizzoli, Milan 2010

‘The Anxious Triumph of Capitalism’ in On Capitalism edited by Kurt Almqvist and Alexander Linklater, Axel (eds) Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation, Stockholm 2010

I buoni e i cattivi nella cultura popolare, Aragno editore Turin 2012

‘L’Europa che non c’è’ in Passato e Presente, Vol. xxviii No. 79, 2010

‘Misunderstanding Europe’ in Comprendre No 2, 2010

‘Abandoning the Welfare State. The Unbearable Heaviness of Being European’ in Bejing Cultural Review April 2012

‘Keeping Down the Demos’ review article in  History Workshop Journal (Autumn 2012) 74(1)

‘The Impenitent. Hobsbawm 1917-2012’ in New Left Review 77, Sept-Oct 2012, pp.35-42

‘The provincialism of the hegemon: British and French Fiction in the nineteenth century’ in Revue française de civilisation britannique, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2012

‘L’exception italienne?’ in Mario Telò, Giulia Sandri and Luca Tomini (eds), L’état de la démocratie en Italie, Éditions de l’université de Bruxelles,  Bruxelles 2013 and in English : ‘The Italian anomaly?’ in Comparative European Politics, Vol. 11  No 1, 2013

‘The Long Depression, the Great Crash and Socialism in Western Europe’ in Michael Kearing and David McCrone (eds), The Crisis of Social Democracy in Europe, Edinburgh University Press 2013