Peter McPhee

Peter McPhee

Peter McPhee was appointed to a Personal Chair in History at the University of Melbourne in 1993. He has published widely on the history of modern France, most recently Robespierre: A revolutionary life (2012); and Liberty or Death: The French Revolution (2016). He was Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) 2003–7 before becoming the University’s first Provost in 2007–9, with responsibility for the design and implementation of the ‘Melbourne Model’. He became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012. He is currently the Chair of the History Council of Victoria, the state’s peak body for history.

Peter McPhee reviews 'The Pursuit of Europe: A history' by Anthony Pagden

May 2022, no. 442 29 December 2021
Peter McPhee reviews 'The Pursuit of Europe: A history' by Anthony Pagden
Histories of the origins of the idea of ‘Europe’ have probed the legacies of the Roman Empire, the concept of western Christendom, and the power of the ‘republic of letters’ in the dissemination of ‘Enlightenment’ ideas, culminating in the cosmopolitanism of the early years of the French Revolution. Anthony Pagden is well aware of this heritage but has decided to begin his own study wi ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'Death of a Notary: Conquest and change in colonial New York' by Donna Merwick

September 2002, no. 244 01 September 2002
Peter McPhee reviews 'Death of a Notary: Conquest and change in colonial New York' by Donna Merwick
‘He was the only one. He was the only man to have committed suicide in the town’s seventeenth-century history.’ Thus Donna Merwick invites us into this sad and instructive tale about the colonial Dutch world of North America. On one level, this is the story of Adriaen Janse van Ilpendam, a Dutch schoolmaster and notary based in the small settlement of Beverwijck, later known as Albany, who ... (read more)

'The digital cliff: Protecting the National Archives of Australia' by Peter McPhee

June 2021, no. 432 10 May 2021
'The digital cliff: Protecting the National Archives of Australia' by Peter McPhee
Many readers will recall reports of the fire in April 2021 that damaged the University of Cape Town’s library, which, among other riches, housed invaluable collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers, and one of the most extensive African film collections in the world. The extent of the damage is still being assessed. Even worse, the fire that destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'The Napoleonic Wars: A global history' by Alexander Mikaberidze

May 2021, no. 431 27 April 2021
Peter McPhee reviews 'The Napoleonic Wars: A global history' by Alexander Mikaberidze
The French have a term for weighty tomes of scholarship: gros pavés or paving stones. Alexander Mikaberidze has landed his own gros pavé, an extraordinary account of the Napoleonic Wars of 1799–1815 in almost one thousand pages, based on an awe-inspiring knowledge of military and political history and a facility in at least half a dozen languages. The scale of his knowledge is breathtaking. M ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history' by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall

December 2020, no. 427 25 November 2020
Peter McPhee reviews 'Napoleon and de Gaulle: Heroes and history' by Patrice Gueniffey, translated by Steven Rendall
Forty years ago, François Furet outraged the French historical establishment by proclaiming that ‘the French Revolution is over’, launching a blistering critique of the Marxist categories and politics of university historians, many of them still members of the Communist Party he had abandoned in 1959. By the time of the bicentenary in 1989, historians were in bitter dispute over the meaning a ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'A New World Begins: The history of the French Revolution' by Jeremy D. Popkin

October 2020, no. 425 24 September 2020
Peter McPhee reviews 'A New World Begins: The history of the French Revolution' by Jeremy D. Popkin
Jeremy D. Popkin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, fittingly begins his account of the French Revolution with a printer in Lexington enthusing in late 1793 about the ideals of the Revolution of 1789 in his Kentucky Almanac. The printer’s geographic distance from the events in Paris meant that his idealistic vision of the Revolution coincided with its most violent and repressive period ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely' by Andrew S. Curran

May 2019, no. 411 22 April 2019
Peter McPhee reviews 'Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely' by Andrew S. Curran
Andrew S. Curran recounts the only meeting between the two great philosophes Denis Diderot and Voltaire early in 1778 when Diderot, aged sixty-five, insulted Voltaire, then eighty-five, by averring that contemporary playwrights (including, by implication, the two of them) would not brush Shakespeare’s testicles if they walked between his legs. Two months later, Voltaire was dead; a few weeks lat ... (read more)

Peter McPhee reviews 'Napoleon: Passion, death and resurrection 1815–1840' by Philip Dwyer

October 2018, no. 405 25 September 2018
Peter McPhee reviews 'Napoleon: Passion, death and resurrection 1815–1840' by Philip Dwyer
A son of the French Revolution, Napoleon embedded in French society the Revolution’s core goals of national unity, civil equality, a hierarchy based on merit and achievement, and a rural society based on private property rather than feudal obligations. To these he added the Civil Code, the Bank of France, and other reforms, but he was never able to establish a stable political regime, primarily ... (read more)