Muriel Chamberlain obituary

Other lives: Professor of history promoted to head of department at Swansea University who was also the university’s first female dean

My friend and colleague Muriel Chamberlain, who has died aged 89, was the first female dean at the University of Swansea, and went on to become professor of history and head of department.

She was born in Leicester, the only child of Arthur Chamberlain, a railway station official, and Gladys (nee Shortland), a teacher and artist. Her father was posted to Bristol and Preston, and ended his career as stationmaster at Leeds; she went to school in all three cities.

Muriel took up a place at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, in 1951 and gained a first in history, followed by a DPhil on European diplomatic history in the 19th century. After a spell lecturing at Royal Holloway College, she moved to Swansea in 1959. Three years later she bought a semi, and her parents came to live with her after her father retired.

She proceeded steadily up the ladder of promotion, becoming dean at Swansea in 1975 and was appointed a professor in 1987. In 1989 she was voted head of department by an overwhelming margin, and later served a second term before retiring in 1997, though she continued to write articles and revise her books.

Muriel was sagacious and eminently fair, and as a result was often asked to be on panels and committees, audit other universities and act as an external examiner. Her published work was chiefly on empire and Commonwealth history, but she also wrote an outstanding biography of Lord Aberdeen, the prime minister at the start of the Crimean war. She was vice-chairman of the Historical Association and for many years the editor of the Historian.

She had many interests outside academia – the National Trust, the Historic Gardens Trust , the Victorian Society, the Glamorgan History Society, and was for long time the chairman of the trustees of the Cambrian Archaeological Society.

Muriel was a great traveller and visited almost every country in the world, often journeying alone. She enjoyed opera and was a prominent member of the Liberal Democrats. Latterly, her health deteriorated and she had to move to a care home.

She is survived by a number of cousins.

Michael Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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