Wilson, David M. 1931–

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WILSON, David M. 1931–

(David Mackenzie Wilson)


Born October 30, 1931, in Dacre Banks, Yorkshire, England; son of Joseph (a minister) and Nora (a lecturer) Wilson; married Eva Sjoegren (an author and artist), 1955; children: Simon, Kate. Ethnicity: "Yorkshire." Education: St. John's College, Cambridge, M.A., 1954; University of Lund (Sweden), graduate degree, 1954, Litt.D., 1976.


British Museum, London, England, assistant keeper, 1955-64, director, 1977-92; University of London, London, reader, 1964-71, professor of medieval archaeology, 1971-76, joint head of department of Scandinavian studies at University College, 1973-76; Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, Slade Professor, 1985-86. Crabtree Orator, 1966. Member of Ancient Monuments Board for England, 1976-84, Nottingham University Council, 1988-94, and Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, 1990-98; Museum of London, member of board of governors, 1976-81; trustee of National Museums of Scotland, 1985-87, and National Museums of Merseyside, 1986-2001.


British Academy (fellow), Society for Medieval Archaeology (secretary, 1957-77), British Archaeological Association (president, 1962-68), Viking Society (president, 1968-70), Society of Antiquaries (fellow), Royal Irish Academy, Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Royal Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities (Sweden), Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, German Archaeological Institute, Royal Gustav Aldof's Academy of Sweden, Royal Society of Letters of Lund, Vetenskapssocieteten (Sweden), Royal Society of Science and Letters (Gothenburg, Sweden), Royal Society of Science (Uppsala, Sweden), Royal Norwegian Society of Science and Letters, Polish Archaeological and Numismatic Society (honorary member).


Order of Polar Star (Sweden), 1977; Felix Neuburgh Prize, University of Gothenburg, 1978; knighted, 1984; Gold Medal, Society of Antiquaries, 1992; honorary degrees include Fil.Dr. from University of Stockholm, D.Phil. from Universities of Aarhus and Oslo, D.Litt. from Universities of Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Leicester, and L.L.D. from University of Pennsylvania.


The Anglo-Saxons, Praeger (New York, NY), 1960, 3rd edition, 1980.

Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork, 700-1100, in the British Museum, British Museum (London, England), 1964.

(With Ole Klindt-Jensen) Viking Art, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1966, 2nd edition, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1980.

(With G. Bersu) Three Viking Graves in the Isle of Man, Society for Medieval Archeology (London, England), 1969.

(With Peter Foote) The Viking Achievement, Praeger (New York, NY), 1970, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

The Vikings and Their Origins, McGraw Hill (New York, NY), 1970, revised edition, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1980.

(With A. Small and A.C. Thomas) St. Ninian's Isle and Its Treasure, Aberdeen University Press (Aberdeen, Scotland), 1973.

The Viking Age in the Isle of Man, Odense University Press (Odense, Denmark), 1974.

(Editor) The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England, Methuen (New York, NY), 1976.

Civil and Military Engineering in Viking Age Scandinavia, National Maritime Museum (London, England), 1978.

(Editor) The Northern World: The History and Heritage of Northern Europe, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1980, Abrams (New York, NY), 1981.

Economic Aspects of the Vikings in the West: The Archaeological Basis, Gothenburg University (Gothenburg, Sweden), 1980.

Anglo-Saxon Art: From the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1984.

The Forgotten Collector: Augustus Wollaston Franks of the British Museum, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1984.

The Bayeux Tapestry, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985, new edition, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1985.

The Vikings: Activity Book, British Museum (London, England), 1987.

(Editor) The Collections of the British Museum, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

The British Museum: Purpose and Politics, British Museum (London, England), 1989.

(Editor, with Else Roesdahl) From Viking to Crusader: The Scandinavians and Europe, 800-1200, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 1992.

Awful Ends: The British Museum Book of Epitaphs, British Museum (London, England), 1992.

Showing the Flag, Museum and Galleries Commission (London, England), 1992.

Vikings and Gods in European Art, Moesgaard Museum (Højbjerg, Denmark), 1997.

The British Museum: A History, British Museum (London, England), 2002.


A former director of the British Museum with a background in archaeology, David M. Wilson has also distinguished himself as an author and editor of books on Viking and Anglo-Saxon life, history, and art. Since the 1960s, Wilson has produced works such as The Anglo-Saxons, Viking Art, The Bayeux Tapestry, and The British Museum: Purpose and Politics. In 1970, Wilson received critical attention with The Viking Achievement, written with Peter Foote, and The Vikings and Their Origins. The Viking Achievement focuses on Scandinavian societies during the years 800 to 1200, describing daily life, art, social customs, trade, religion, law, and poetry, among other subjects.

The Vikings and Their Origins, like The Viking Achievement, surveys a period of Scandinavian history. Wilson organizes the book into four sections: "The Unveiling of Scandinavia," "The Era of the Great Migrations," "The Viking Attack," and "The Vikings at Home." The volume's brevity, critics noted, makes it a good choice for college libraries or for those who desire an introduction to the material. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer called The Vikings and Their Origins "a neatly sketched part-outline of a huge and complicated subject." Reviewing the updated version in 1980, Times Literary Supplement contributor Gwyn Jones noted that "the text provides a balanced introduction to its manysided subject."

In 1984 Wilson published Anglo-Saxon Art: From the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest, which surveys media such as manuscript painting, metalwork, ivory carving, and stone sculpture. "Sir David intends the book to serve as an introduction, a synthesis of the present state of study, and this it does admirably," wrote George Zarnecki in the Times Literary Supplement. According to Zarnecki, Anglo-Saxon Art "is beautifully produced and generously illustrated and is meant for the layman and student alike." A Washington Post Book World contributor observed that Wilson brings to his book "a scholar's passion for his material, and a prose style of enviable grace and clarity."

Wilson is also author of The Bayeux Tapestry, which was published in 1985. The book describes the Bayeux Tapestry, which is a 230-foot-long strip of embroidered linen that, in pictures and words, narrates the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Made in England in the eleventh century, the tapestry is now housed in a museum in Bayeux, France. In addition to Wilson's text, the book contains 146 pages of color photographs. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Zarnecki praised Wilson's "short, lively, and eminently sensible text," and commented that "this book can be warmly recommended for both its beauty and its sound scholarship." New York Times Book Review contributor D.J.R. Bruckner observed that Wilson's "appendixes on society, customs, and buildings of the era convey his enormous learning with engaging good humor." The Bayeux Tapestry, Bruckner concluded, "is a grand and exciting book."

Wilson has also produced several works that focus on the British Museum in London, England, including The Collections of the British Museum, which he edited, and The British Museum: Purpose and Politics. Both books were published in 1989, while Wilson served as director of the celebrated institution. The British Museum: Purpose and Politics, according to Times Literary Supplement reviewer Martin Kemp, is "skilfully and effectively" written.

As the British Museum was celebrating its 250th anniversary, Wilson authored an account of the institution, The British Museum: A History. Starting at the museum's founding in 1753, when Sir Hans Sloane left his vast collection of historical items to the British government, Wilson chronicles the growth and development of the British Museum, "the greatest publicly funded museum in the world," according to the author. Throughout the volume, Wilson not only covers major players managing the operations but also remembers critical points in the museum's existence, including threats posed to the collection by riots, revolution, and war, all with "a magpie eye for entertaining detail," thought Spectator reviewer Bevis Hillier. Concluding his Contemporary Review article, contributor James Munson claimed The British Museum: A History "is a scholarly, erudite and clearly written history yet one whose story is interspersed with the individuals who have, over 250 years, made the British Museum what it is."



Wilson, David M., The British Museum: A History, British Museum (London, England), 2000.


Contemporary Review, April, 2003, James Munson, "A Celebration of the British Museum," review of The British Museum: A History, p. 280.

Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Karen Ellis, review of The Bayeux Tapestry, p. 105.

New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1985, D.J.R. Bruckner, review of The Bayeux Tapestry, p. 22.

Spectator, November 23, 2002, Bevis Hillier, "Open for 205 Years but Not Always Friendly," review of The British Museum: A History, p. 56.

Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 1970, review of The Vikings and Their Origins, p. 632; February 8, 1980, Gwyn Jones, review of The Vikings and Their Origins, p. 135; December 14, 1984, George Zarnecki, review of Anglo-Saxon Art: From the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest, p. 1448; March 21, 1986, George Zarnecki, review of The Bayeux Tapestry, p. 301; December 29, 1989, Martin Kemp, review of The British Museum: Purpose and Politics, p. 1435.

Washington Post Book World, December 2, 1984, review of Anglo-Saxon Art, p. 7.

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