Margaret Mary Gowing CBE FBA. 26 April 1921 — 7 November 1998

Roy MacLeod


If some historians are born great, few achieve greatness. But some have greatness thrust upon them. This was certainly true of Margaret Mary Gowing, civil servant, archivist, and Britain’s first official historian of the nuclear age. From modest origins, but armed with a good education, and favoured by the circumstances of Britain at war, Gowing met and seized opportunities that led her eventually to occupy a position of national prominence that few historians—and, at the time, few women historians—could have anticipated, and which even fewer achieved. Her greatest, lasting scholarly contribution takes the form of two books, which in their mastery of official records laid the foundations of archival research upon which later generations of scholars have built. But her progress was never easy, nor were her successes complete. Ever entwined, her personal and her professional lives were deeply touched by moments of acute stress, tinged with tragedy, that came to affect not only her academic performance but also the lives of family, friends, colleagues and students.