Professor Donald Sassoon
Location: Arts Two 3.13
Professor of Comparative European History
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7882 8371
Professor Donald Sassoon was born in Cairo and was educated in Paris, Milan, London and the United States. He obtained his first degree in 1969 from University College London, his MA from the Pennsylvania State University, and his PhD from Birkbeck College. He taught at Westfield College, University of London until its merger with Queen Mary. He has lectured at universities throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, spoken at conferences in thirty countries and is frequently interviewed by the international media.
In 1999 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Trento, Italy. In 2000 he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Remarque Institute at New York University and during 2002 he was Senior Research Fellow at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. In the Fall of 2009 was the Samuel Wood Brooks Visiting Fellow in English Literature at the University of Queensland. He is a member of the Queen Mary Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought.
Professor Sassoon wrote two books on Italian history and politics before producing in 1996 One Hundred Years of Socialism a massive (1,000 pages) study of the development of socialism in Western Europe-regarded as the classic text by Eric Hobsbawm. It won the Deutscher Prize 1997 and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Swedish, Chinese, and Portuguese. His edited Looking Left (1997) has been published in Italian and Japanese. He is the author of some seventy articles and essays.
His much praised Mona Lisa: The History of the World's Most Famous Painting (Harper Collins 2001, US edition Becoming Mona Lisa, Harcourt) has been published in translation in Italy, Spain, Korea, Brazil, Finland, China, Taiwan, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. In this book Donald Sassoon describes not only the Mona Lisa and its history, but its mythology, and the processes which combined to raise it to its current level of fame.
He examines Leonardo's innovative techniques; the problems concerning the identity of the sitter; what happened to the painting after it left Italy when Leonardo joined King Francis I’s court in France; the copies made in the seventeenth century; its celebration by nineteenth century intellectuals; its theft and disappearance early in the twentieth century; the surrealists', other avant-garde artists' and cartoonists’ uses of it; its appropriation by the advertising industry; and the never-ending flood of new and ‘conclusive’ theories about Mona Lisa's smile. In 2006 he also published a pictorial history of the Mona Lisa entitled Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, already translated in German, French, Italian, Hungarian and Spanish.
Between 1996 and 2006 Professor Sassoon was engaged in a major project mapping out the growth and development of cultural markets throughout Europe since 1800 encompassing publishing, novel-writing, the press, the theatre, music, the recording industry, the cinema, radio and television, down to the web, computer games and the iPod. The Nuffield Foundation backed this project by awarding him a Social Science Research Fellowship in 1997-98. Further backing was received from the Leverhulme Trust with a three-year Major Research Fellowship (2000-2003).
The book, The Culture of the Europeans, 1,660 pages long divided into sixty-two chapters, was published in 2006 to wide acclaim: ‘unique and encyclopedic…a monument to streetwise and cosmopolitan scholarship’ (Eric Hobsbawm); ‘Never less than penetrating in his comments…this book shows how British historians such as Sassoon now occupy the commanding heights of comparative European history and analysis’ (Financial Times); ‘An absorbing, illuminating and enjoyable book…anyone with an interest in the development of culture will find it interesting, informative and surprisingly entertaining.’ (Daily Telegraph); ‘a truly European study’ (Times Literary Supplement) ‘geographically ambitious…and only someone as cosmopolitan as Sassoon could have undertaken it’ (History Today). It has been translated into Spanish, Estonian and Italian and will be translated into Chinese and Korean. In 2009 the book was awarded the Premio Alassio Internazionale.
At the end of 2007 his Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism – a study of the circumstances leading to Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister in October 1922 – was published by Harper Press. It has already been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.
Professor Sassoon is on the board of the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, Thesis Eleven, the Paris-based journal of culture and communication Hermès and is the Literary Editor of The Political Quarterly. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of the publishing house IB Tauris.
Professor Sassoon is organizing for the Fondazione Palazzo Ducale of Genoa a four day event in April 2010 on the theme ‘the Birth of Nations’ with the participation of scholars from three continents. In 2009-10 he will be away on a Leverhulme Trust grant to work on his new project: a comparison of attitudes towards capitalism in two distinct periods: 1880-1910 and 1980-2010.
Professor Sassoon is prepared to supervise research on the European cultural industry since 1800, on West European socialism, and on twentieth century Italy.