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Dr John Davies (1938 - 2015)

17 February 2015

Dr John Davies
Dr John Davies. Image credit: S4C.

Historian of Wales John Davies was born in Llwynypia, Rhondda Fawr, in 1938, and spent his early years in Treorchy, before moving to Bwlch-llan, Cardiganshire at the end of the Second World War (and being known as 'John Davies Bwlch-llan' forever after).

He studied for a degree in History at University College, Cardiff (now Cardiff University), and then for his doctorate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The thesis was published in the University of Wales Press's 'Studies in Welsh History' monograph series as Cardiff and the Marquesses of Bute in 1981, was republished in 2011, and remains a landmark case study of the influence of the aristocracy on the urban development of Britain.

John taught at University College, Swansea before moving for the remainder of his academic career to Aberystwyth, where he was for many years warden of Neuadd Pantycelyn. A charismatic if idiosyncratic teacher, he was generous with his time and hospitality, encouraging of young scholars, and deeply committed to the intertwined causes of the Welsh language and the Welsh nation.

His most notable achievement was Hanes Cymru, a Welsh-language history of Wales and the Welsh people published by Allen Lane in 1990, and in English as A History of Wales in 1993, revised and updated editions emerging in 2007 and 2014. This is a work of remarkable erudition, elegance and synthesis, with an eye for the telling and illuminating detail and a commitment to communicating an explicitly national story to a wide readership within a European frame of reference.

Other works of significance followed: Broadcasting and the BBC in Wales(1994), The Making of Wales (1996), The Celts (2000), Cardiff: A Pocket Guide (2002), Wales: 100 Places to See Before You Die (2010) and his autobiography Fy Hanes I (2014). He was one of four editors of the Welsh Academy's Encyclopedia of Wales / Gwyddoniadur Cymru (2008).

After his retirement from teaching John established a home in Cardiff, and enjoyed a highly successful second career as a television and radio broadcaster in both English and Welsh. He leaves behind his wife Janet, herself a distinguished historian, and four children.

- Chris Williams, School of History, Archaeology and Religion.