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Professor John Robertson

Professor John Robertson

Professor of the History of Political Thought

Clare College
Cambridge CB2 1TL
Office Phone: 01223 3 33277

Departments and Institutes

Clare College:

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.

Research Supervision

He supervises PhD and MPhil dissertations on a range of subjects in the history of political thought, historiography and intellectual history between c. 1600 and c. 1800. Of particular interest to him are topics which relate political thinking to sacred history and religious heterodoxy, to historical writing, and to Enlightenment and its antecedents.


M.Phil. in Political Thought and Intellectual History: recent courses include a Texts Class on Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise  in Michaelmas Term, and a Concepts Class on Concepts of Enlightenment in Lent Term.

Undergraduate Tripos papers in Political Thought: for Part I Paper 20/Part II Paper 4: Lectures on Natural Law and Luxury, Montesquieu and Hume (Michaelmas), and on Rousseau and Smith (Lent), with a class on Political Thought and History in the 18 Century (Easter).  For Part II Paper 6: lectures on topics in the History of International Thought from the 16 to the 18 centuries (Michaelmas).  Themes & Sources Class on 'Sacred Histories' (Lent-Easter).

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:

  • 'Berlin, Vico, and the critique of Enlightenment', in Laurence Brockliss and Ritchie Robertson (ed), Isaih 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.