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Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner (born 26 November 1940) is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of Londonmarker.


Quentin Skinner was born the second son of Alexander Skinner, CBE (died 1979), and Winifred Rose Margaret, née Duthie (died 1982). Educated at Bedford Schoolmarker and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridgemarker, he was elected into a Fellowship there in 1962 upon obtaining a double-starred first in History, but immediately gained a teaching Fellowship at Christ's College, Cambridgemarker, where he remained until moving to London University in 2008. He is now an Honorary Fellow of both Christ's College and Gonville and Caius College.

In the middle 1970s he spent four formative years at the Institute for Advanced Studymarker in Princetonmarker, initially as an historian and latterly in the School of Social Science. It was there that he met Raymond Geuss, later a colleague at Cambridge. Together with John Dunn and J. G. A. Pocock Skinner has been said to have founded the "Cambridge School" of the history of political thought. In 1978 he was appointed to the chair of Political Science at Cambridge Universitymarker, and in 1996 he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History. He was pro-vice-chancellor of Cambridge Universitymarker in 1999. In 1979 he married Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College London; they have a daughter and a son.

Skinner was Distinguished Visiting Professor at Queen Mary, University of Londonmarker for the 2007-2008 academic year, and has been Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary since October 2008.

Skinner is a Fellow of numerous scholarly associations, including the British Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Europaea and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, and his scholarship has won him many awards, including the Wolfson Prize for History (1979); the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize of the British Political Studies Association (2006); the Benjamin Lippincott Award (2001) and the David Easton Award (2007) of the American Political Science Association; the Bielefelder Wissenschaftspreis (2008); and a Balzan Prize (2006). He has also been the recipient of honorary degrees from many Universities, including Athens, Chicago, Harvard, Helsinki and Oxford.


Skinner's historical writings have been characterised by an interest in recovering the ideas of Early Modern and previous political writers. This has been spread over Renaissance republican authors (see in Principal publications below, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought [1978]), the 'pre-Humanist' dictatores of later medieval Italy, Machiavelli, and more recently (in Liberty before Liberalism [1998]) the English republicans of the mid-seventeenth century (including John Milton, James Harrington, and Algernon Sidney). The work of the 1970s and 1980s was in good part directed towards writing an account of the history of the modern idea of the state. In more recent publications he has preferred the more capacious term 'neo-Roman' to 'republican'.

He is generally regarded as one of the two principal members of the influential 'Cambridge School' of the study of the history of political thought. The other principal member of this school is the historian J.G.A. Pocock, whose The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law (1957) was a significant early influence. Another important stimulus came from the work of Peter Laslett, and more particularly from Laslett's decisive edition of John Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1960) which Skinner read as an undergraduate in his second year at Cambridge.

The 'Cambridge School' is best known for its attention to the 'languages' of political thought and the contextual focus this gives its distinctive blend of intellectual history and the history of political thought. Skinner's particular contribution was to articulate a theory of interpretation which concentrated on recovering the 'speech acts' embedded in the 'illocutionary' statements of specific individuals in writing works of political theory (Machiavelli, Thomas More, and Thomas Hobbes have been continuing preoccupations). This work was based on Skinner's study of the philosophical preoccupations of J. L. Austin and the later Wittgenstein. One of the consequences of this account of interpretation is an emphasis on the necessity of studying less well-known political writers as a means of shedding light on the classic authors - although it also consciously questions the extent to which it is possible to distinguish 'classic' texts from the contexts, and particularly the arguments, in which they originally occurred and as such it is an attack on the uncritical assumption that political classics are monolithic and free-standing. In its earlier versions this added up to what many have seen as a persuasive critique on the approach of an older generation, particularly on that of Leo Strauss.

Skinner's longstanding concern with the speech acts of political writing helps explain his turn at the beginning of the 1990s towards the role of neo-classical rhetoric in early modern political theory, which resulted in his study of Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (1996). Skinner has since returned to what has often been seen as an enduring interest to the Regius Professors of History at the University of Cambridge (not least Lord Acton), the history of liberty and particular developing what he has articulated as a 'third form of liberty'. This can most effectively be described as a form of 'negative' liberty (or neo-Roman) which is characterised however by the active participation in government to remain free from interference and the slavery caused by succumbing to an arbitrary power. See for example Quentin Skinner, ‘A Third Concept of Liberty’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 117 (2002), pp. 237-68. His most recent work was an analysis of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes as a polemical retort to those who, in the English civil war, espoused precisely such a 'neo-Roman' concept of human freedom.

Principal publications


  • The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: Volume I: The Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 1978)
  • The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: Volume II: The Age of Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 1978)
  • Machiavelli (Oxford University Press, 1981)
  • Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge University Press, 1998)
  • Visions of Politics: Volume I: Regarding Method (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • Visions of Politics: Volume II: Renaissance Virtues (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • Visions of Politics: Volume III: Hobbes and Civil Science (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • L'artiste en philosophie politique (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2003)
  • Hobbes and Republican Liberty (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Books edited

  • (Co-editor and contributor), Philosophy, Politics and Society: Fourth Series (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1972)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Philosophy in History (Cambridge University Press, 1984)
  • (Editor and contributor), The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
  • (Co-editor), Machiavelli, The Prince (trans. Russell Price) (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Political Discourse in Early-modern Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • (Co-editor) Milton and Republicanism (Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, Volume I: Republicanism and Constitutionalism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage, Volume II: The Values of Republicanism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • (Co-editor and contributor), States and Citizens: History, Theory, Prospects (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • (Co-editor), Thomas Hobbes: Writings on Common Law and Hereditary Right (The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes, Volume XI) (The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2005)


  • 1997: ‘An Interview with Quentin Skinner’, Cogito 11, pp. 69-78.
  • 2000a: ‘Intervista a Quentin Skinner: Conseguire la libertà promuovere l’uguaglianza’, Il pensiero mazziniano 3, pp. 118-22.
  • 2000b: ‘Entrevista: Quentin Skinner’ in As muitas faces da história, ed. Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Brazilia, pp. 307-39. [Trans. in The New History: Confessions and Conversations, ed. Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Cambridge, 2003.]
  • 2001: ‘Quentin Skinnerin haastattelu’, Niin & Näin 31, pp. 8-23.
  • 2002: ‘Encountering the Past: An Interview with Quentin Skinner’ Finnish Yearbook of Political Thought 6, pp. 32-63.
  • 2003: ‘La Libertà Politica ed il Mestiere dello Storico: Intervista a Quentin Skinner’, Teoria Politica 19, pp. 177-85.
  • 2006: ‘Historia intelectual y acción política: Una entrevista con Quentin Skinner’, Historia y Política 16, pp. 237-58.
  • 2007a: ‘Neither text, nor context: An interview with Quentin Skinner’, Groniek: Historisch Tijdschrift 174, pp. 117-33.
  • 2007b: ‘La Historia de mi Historia: Una Entrevista con Quentin Skinner’, El giro contextual: Cinco ensayos de Quentin Skinner y seis comentarios, ed. Enrique Bocardo Crespo, Madrid, pp. 45-60.
  • 2007c: ‘Intellectual History, Liberty and Republicanism: An Interview with Quentin Skinner’, Contributions to the History of Concepts 3, pp. 102-23.
  • 2008: ‘Concepts only have histories’, interview with Quentin Skinner by Emmanuelle Tricoire and Jacques Levy, EspacesTemps, document 3692
  • 2009a: ‘Making History; The Discipline in Perspective: Interview with Professor Quentin Skinner’, Storia e Politica, 1, pp. 113-34.
  • 2009b: ‘Wie frei sint wir wirklich?’ Fragen an Quentin Skinner’, Zeitschrift fűr Ideengeschichte 3, pp. 5-21.


  • 1988: James Tully (Editor), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and his Critics (Polity Press and Princeton University Press).
  • 1995: M. Edling and U. Morkenstam, ‘Quentin Skinner: From Historian of Ideas to Political Scientist’, Scandinavian Political Studies 18, pp. 119-32.
  • 1996: ‘Dossier Quentin Skinner’, Krisis 64.
  • 2001: ‘Quentin Skinner og Intellektuel Historie’, Slagmark: Special Number (33)
  • 2003a: Kari Palonen, Quentin Skinner: History, Politics, Rhetoric (Cambridge: Polity Press).
  • 2003b: Kari Palonen, Die Entzauberung der Begriffe: Das Umschreiben der politischen Begriffe bei Quentin Skinner und Reinhart Koselleck (Münster).
  • 2006: Annabel Brett and James Tully (Editors), Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • 2007a: Emile Perreau-Saussine, ‘Quentin Skinner in context’, Review of Politics, 68, pp. 106-122.
  • 2007b: Enrique Bocardo Crespo (Editor), El giro contextual: Cinco ensayos de Quentin Skinner y seis comentarios (Madrid: Editorial Tecnos).
  • 2007c: Michael Drolet, ‘Quentin Skinner and Jacques Derrida on Power and the State’, History of European Ideas, 33, pp. 234-55.
  • 2008: Ryan Walter, ‘Reconciling Foucault and Skinner on the state: the primacy of politics?’ History of the Human Sciences, 21, pp. 94-114.
  • 2009: Frank Beck Lassen and Mikkel Thorup (Editors), Quentin Skinner: Politik og historie: En tekstsamling (Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag).


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