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Professor Emeritus John Robertson

Professor Emeritus John Robertson

Professor Emeritus of the History of Political Thought

Clare College
Cambridge CB2 1TL

Departments and Institutes

Clare College:
Emeritus Fellow

Research Interests

His scholarly interests cover political, social and historical thought across the 17th and 18th centuries. His study of the Enlightenment in Scotland and Naples reconstructed the different social and intellectual contexts of Enlightenment in the two kingdoms, the better to understand their common intellectual concern with the history of sociability and the development of political economy. More recently he has published a 'very short introduction' to the Enlightenment as a whole, which explores the different ways in which philosophers and historians have conceptualised Enlightenment, and suggests that we may be too eager to assert that the Enlightenment 'still matters' today. 

He is now working on the conceptualisation of sociability in between c.1650 and 1800, and on the ways in which sacred history was used as a resource for addressing the problem, alongside natural law.  A major dimension of the subject is the changing agenda of sacred history in Catholic Europe. This will re-open the question of the relation between pre-Enlightenment sacred history and Enlightenment civil and stadial history. Other interests include the definition of Enlightenment, concepts of political and economic union in early modern Europe, and modern and contemporary historiography.

Key Publications

His books include:

  • The Enlightenment. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • The Case for the Enlightenment. Scotland and Naples 1680-1760 (Cambridge: CUP, 2005)
  • The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia Issue (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1985, repr. 2009)


And the edited volumes:

  • The Intellectual Consequences of Religious Heterodoxy 1600-1750, edited with Sarah Mortimer (Leiden: Brill, 2012)
  • Andrew Fletcher, Political Works (Cambridge: CUP, 1997)
  • A Union for Empire. Political Thought and the Union of 1707 (Cambridge: CUP, 1995)


Recent articles include:

  • 'John Pocock's histories of political thought', Storia della Storiografia/History of Historiography, 75, 1 (2019), 11-46.
  • 'Sociability in sacred historical perspective 1650-1800', in Bela Kapossy, Isaac Nakhimovsky, Sophus Reinert and Richard Whatmore, ed, Markets, Morals, Politics. Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought (Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press, 2018), 53-81.
  • 'Berlin, Vico, and the critique of Enlightenment', in Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson (ed), Isaiah Berlin and the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 151-163.
  • ‘Europe’s Enlightenment’, in Hamish Scott (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History 1350-1750, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), II, 141-69.

  • 'Sacred history and political thought: Neapolitan responses to the problem of sociability after Hobbes', The Historical Journal, 56, 1, (2013), 1-29.