Higham, N(icholas) J(ohn) (Nicholas Higham)

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HIGHAM, N(icholas) J(ohn)
(Nicholas Higham)


ADDRESSES: Office—School of History, University of Manchester, Oxford Rd., Manchester M13 9PL, England. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: University of Manchester School of History and Classics, Manchester, England, reader in history and dean of undergraduate studies in the faculty of arts.

MEMBER: Society of Antiquaries (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: Leslie Fox Prize, 1988.


(As Nicholas Higham; with Barri Jones) The Carvetti, Sutton (Gloucester, England), 1985, new edition, 1991.

The Northern Counties to AD 1000 ("Regional History of England" series), Longman (New York, NY), 1986.

(As Nicholas Higham) Rome, Britain, and the Anglo-Saxons, Seaby (London, England), 1992.

The Kingdom of Northumbria: AD 350-1100, Sutton (Gloucester, England), 1993.

The Origins of Cheshire, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1993.

The Death of Anglo-Saxon England, Sutton (Gloucester, England), 1997.

The Norman Conquest, Sutton (Gloucester, England), 1998.

King Arthur: Myth-making and History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to books, including Blackwell's Companion to Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford University Press, 1999, and Medieval Archaeology: An Encyclopaedia, Garland (New York, NY), 2001. Contributor to periodicals, including Archaeological Journal, Northern History, Speculum, Medieval Archaeology, Welsh History Review, Britannia, and Landscapes.


The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1994.

An English Empire: Bede and the Early Anglo-Saxon Kings, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1995.

The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1997.


The Changing Past, Manchester University (Manchester, England), 1979.

Excavations at Ordsall Hall Demesne Farm, 1978–79, Greater Manchester Archaeological Group (Manchester, England), 1980.

(With D. H. Hill) Edward the Elder, 899-924, Routledge (New York, NY), 2001.

Archaeology of the Roman Empire: A Tribute to the Life and Works of Professor Barri Jones, Archaeopress (Oxford, England), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: An archaeologist by training, N. J. Higham is a reader of history at the University of Manchester. His 1986 book, The Northern Counties to AD 1000, is a social and economic history of England from 685 to 1000. Filled with illustrations and maps covering the area between Hadrian's Wall and Yorkshire, the work also examines England's landscape. Encounter contributor Peter Levi found the book "unsmoothly written and not without jargon," but the reviewer added that Higham's effort "tells one exactly what one wants to know, and improves on those huge standard works in which one may delve in vain." The Kingdom of Northumbria: AD 350-1100 relates the history of northern England from its years under Roman rule to the Norman Conquest. Higham combines many sources into a continuous narrative, an approach that History Today reviewer Catherine Hills found problematic. As Hill stated, "Because this is a synthesis it is not easy to distinguish between conventional precis of accepted wisdom, summaries of current debate which might not be universally agreed, and brief statements of new or recent research. The single authorial voice gives the same status to everything." Nevertheless, Hill called the work "well-written and lavishly illustrated."

Higham began his "Origins of England" trilogy with the 1994 book The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century. In this controversial work, he looks at the fall of Roman Britain and the origins of Saxon England. He examines Britsh Christian historian Gildas's Analysis of Liber Querulus de Excidio Britanniae—translated as The Ruin of Britain—which he claims "almost alone offers the opportunity to examine the 'beginnings" of England as an historical, as opposed to an archaeological, problem." Asserting that biblical and ecclesiastical sources determined the historian's ideological framework, Higham suggests that Gildas's writings were, "by implication, justifying British warfare against the Saxons." E. J. Kealy praised the work, writing in Choice that "Higham's challenge to accepted scholarship deserves wide reading by graduate students and scholars." Times Literary Supplement reviewer Patrick Sims-Williams was more skeptical, observing, "The so-called 'big bang' theory of England's origin is stimulating, ingenious and worth attention, but appears to be generated by Higham's compressed chronology rather than by Gildas's own inscrutable text."

The second volume in Higham's trilogy, An English Empire: Bede and the Early Anglo-Saxon Kings, concerns the political systems in southern Britain around 597 to 633 AD, as well as the Saxon empires in the age of Bede. Higham reinterprets research findings and gives an characteristically unconventional reading of Gildas. He argues that Bede tried to legitimize English dominion, and contends that stable rule existed within the small system of monarchies in England at that time. Higham also offers new insights into rural life through the relations between Britons and Anglo-Saxons. In Choice, J. L. Leland offered qualified praise for the volume, remarking that, "Overall, Higham's use of sources is idiosyncratic … but his speculations seriously challenge many received opinions." In the concluding volume of the series, The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England, Higham studies the Anglo-Saxon kings' conversion to Christianity during the seventh century. The author suggests that Christianity was politically useful because its monotheism and hierarchical structure supported a growing centralized and hierarchical monarchy. As K. F. Drew noted in Choice, "The presentation of the theoretical foundation of Higham's argument is clear enough." Drew added, however, that "his work demonstrates the extreme weakness of the [historical] sources," many of which are drawn from the perspective of the church.

In 2002 Higham published King Arthur: Myth-making and History, "a sceptical survey of the debate on the historical Arthur," according to Richard Barber in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. In the work, Higham analyzes the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, two early sources of the Arthurian legend. For Higham, according to Times Literary Supplement reviewer Carolyne Larrington, "the essential question, mercifully, is not 'who was the real Arthur?'" Instead, Larrington noted, "the question is why and how these two histories—and no others in a period of 500 years—make use of Arthur." In the view of Medium Aevum contributor Stephen Knight, "Higham's scholarly and intelligent study of the early materials associated with Arthur is highly welcome."



Albion, fall, 2003, Patrick Wormald, review of King Arthur: Myth-making and History, p. 454.

Choice, January, 1995, E. J. Kealey, review of The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century, p. 848; March, 1996, J. L. Leland, review of An English Empire: Bede and the Early Anglo-Saxon Kings, p. 1196; December, 1997, K. F. Drew, review of The Convert Kings: Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England, p. 700.

Contemporary Review, February, 2003, review of The Convert Kings, p. 112.

Encounter, July-August, 1986, Peter Levi, review of The Northern Counties to AD 1000, p. 44.

English Historical Review, February, 1997, D. P. Kirby, review of The English Conquest, p. 155; September, 1997, Barbara Yorke, review of An English Empire, p. 957; February, 2003, John Blair, review of Edward the Elder, 899-924, p. 168.

History Today, March, 1994, Catherine Hills, "Retreading Old Ground," review of The Kingdom of Northumbria: AD 350-1100, p. 54; March, 1998, Barbara Mitchell, "Sparrow on the Wing," review of The Convert Kings, p. 56.

Journal of American Culture, September, 2003, Ray B. Browne, review of King Arthur, p. 417.

Journal of Church and State, spring, 1999, Donathan Taylor, review of The Convert Kings, p. 384.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October, 1998, D. P. Kirby, review of The Convert Kings, p. 715; January, 2004, Richard Barber, review of King Arthur, p. 118.

Medium Aevum, fall, 2003, Stephen Knight, review of King Arthur, p. 308.

Times Literary Supplement, May 26, 1995, Patrick Sim-Williams, "A British Jihad?," review of The English Conquest, p. 27; April 16, 1999, George Garnett, "English Heritage," review of The Death of Anglo-Saxon England; July 12, 2002, Carolyne Larrington, "Joshua in Camelot," review of King Arthur.


University of Manchester Web site, http://www.arts.manchester.ac.uk/ (February 15, 2005), "Dr. Nick Higham."